When I see patients for the first time, there’s always a lot of questions as to what Naturopathic Medicine exactly is — many of the questions I’m frequently asked include “are you a doctor,” “did you go to medical school,” “can you prescribe medication” and “can you serve as a primary care physician?”
Breaking it down, naturopathic medicine is an integrated system that focuses on treating the body as a whole, using natural methods and materials, such as homeopathy, herbal supplements, acupuncture and diet and lifestyle changes to address chronic and short-term health ailments, medical conditions and chronic pain.
This medical practice believes in the healing power of nature — giving the body what it needs so it can find balance, in order to correct itself, versus manipulating things with surgery and medication. It is safe for people of all ages, from infant to senior citizen, and offers an alternative for patients to have another choice in medical care.
Medical school for naturopathic medicine was modeled after the medical school program most are familiar with. It is a four year post graduate doctoral degree with extensive classroom work and mandatory clinical and observation hours, followed by board exams and licensing. Each licensed state has the same requirements for naturopathic licensing, however, each holds different mandates on our scope of practice. Connecticut requires a naturopathic physician to be licensed with a medical degree. We are licensed to diagnose and treat medical conditions, but we are not allowed to write prescriptions, offer injections or conduct minor surgeries, like we are able to in some other states.
As a naturopathic physician, when I see a new patient I go through a thorough consultation appointment just as any other medical practitioner would. I allow 60 minutes for an initial appointment and follow ups are typically 30 minutes. We discuss medical history and I conduct a physical exam to decide on what labs to order; many of these labs are the same as an internal medicine or primary care physician would order, and others are labs not typically ordered in conventional medicine.
My goal — as a naturopathic physician — is to dig deeper and take a more in-depth look at the patient as a whole to treat the cause of their medical issues. For example, if a patient comes to me suffering from frequent headaches, I look at it as a puzzle to figure out WHY this is happening instead of just treating the headaches. I would look at whether the person is dehydrated or if there are hormonal issues; sometimes allergies, food sensitivities or nutritional deficiencies cause frequent headaches; they can also be a sign of Lyme Disease or a musculoskeletal issue. When the issue is identified, the first step is to look at lifestyle changes that can be made to help the patient feel better — this can be as easy as simple diet tweaks, exercise changes, or a different sleep schedule. Often, there are Chinese or Western herbs, or nutritional supplements prescribed that can help treat issues; other times I suggest acupuncture, or a referral to PT or another appropriate practitioner if necessary.
At the end of the day, I just want to get people better and impact their lives in a positive way, whether that means getting them off of medications that are causing negative side effects, preventing unnecessary surgeries or helping them live their lives in a pain-free manner.
The important thing to remember is that naturopathic medicine is an option — it can be used on its own or can be used alongside conventional medical treatments. I work quite closely with the MD’s of many of my patients, sharing treatment plans, labs and notes, and sometimes I do refer back to an MD for additional diagnostic procedures or intervention if necessary. Naturopathic treatment is extremely successful for those that are willing to make the commitment and take responsibility for their own health, putting time, energy and finances into treating things in a holistic, organic, natural way.
At the end of the day, anyone with the ND or MD letters after their names have one goal in sight — for their patients to be safe and to feel better. My favorite part of being a Naturopathic Physician is doing just that — seeing someone’s symptoms relieved, pain lessened and spirits lifted.