How to Become a Naturopathic Physician: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a naturopathic physician. Research the education requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career as a naturopathic physician. View article »

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  • 0:03 What is a Naturopathic…
  • 0:53 Career Requirements
  • 1:28 Be a Naturopathic Physician

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Video Transcript

What Is a Naturopathic Physician?

A practicing doctor of naturopathic medicine is referred to as a naturopathic physician. Naturopathic physicians identify the causes of illnesses and use the body's natural ability to heal itself holistically. They use herbs, exercise, meditation, massage, hydrotherapy, and nutrition to bring about wellness and balance.

There is great reward in helping people with their health, including the prevention of injury and illness, which is emphasized by naturopathic doctors. Although few naturopathic doctors work in high-stress environments such as hospitals, they might be called to consult or see an established patient. Those who operate their own practices may set their own schedules. The field of natural medicine is still growing in the U.S., and establishing a client base may be difficult.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Doctoral degree
Degree Field Naturopathic physician, chiropractic doctor, Chinese medicine, acupuncture, medical doctor, osteopathic doctor
Licensure Must be licensed by the state to practice medicine
Experience 2-5 years
Key skills Observation, listening, problem solving, ability to use medical and therapeutic equipment to diagnose and administer therapeutic treatment
Salary (2014) $73,400 (median salary for all other health diagnosing and treating practitioners)

Sources: Naturopathic physician job listings (November 2012), American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, State medical licensing authorities, O Net Online, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Naturopathic physicians have doctoral degrees in Chinese medicine, acupuncture, or in naturopathic, chiropractic, or osteopathic fields, and state licenses. They have keen observation, listening, and problem-solving skills, along with the ability to use medical and therapeutic equipment to diagnose and administer therapeutic treatment.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average median salary for all other health diagnosing and treating practitioners, which include naturopathic physicians, was $74,710 in 2015.

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Be a Naturopathic Physician

What steps do I need to take to be a naturopathic physician?

Step 1: Obtain a Bachelor's Degree

Before aspiring medical practitioners can attend any medical school, they must first obtain a bachelor's degree. No specific degree field is required, but the candidate's bachelor's degree program should include prerequisite courses in chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy, physiology, cellular biology and all labs associated with these courses.

  • Get good grades. If your state does not license naturopathic physicians, you will need to apply to medical school, which is highly competitive. If your state does license naturopathic physicians, admission to naturopathic schools generally requires candidates to have maintained the minimum required grade average in these prerequisite courses - usually a B or a C, depending on the school.

Step 2: Obtain a Medical Degree from a School Approved by Your State

Unless you plan to practice in one of the states that licenses naturopathic physicians, you should obtain a professional degree in a medical discipline recognized by the state in which the student plans to practice. These disciplines may include medicine, chiropractic, Oriental or traditional Chinese medicine, osteopathic medicine, or another recognized discipline. A medical degree generally requires 4 years to complete, with 2- to 6-year residency requirements to fulfill depending upon the medical specialty chosen.

Step 3: Complete a Graduate-Level Program in Naturopathic Medicine

In order to be a licensed Doctor of Naturopathy (ND) or Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (NMD), students must complete a 4-year, graduate-level program accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education. The first two years of a naturopathic medical degree are the same as for traditional medical students. The first year covers biomedical sciences, while the second year covers diagnostic sciences. Naturopathic students also take introductory coursework in holistic approaches to body systems and naturopathic modalities during the first 2 years. The last 2 years cover naturopathic diagnostic and treatment techniques and involve extensive, clinical hands-on experience.

Step 4: Pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX)

After graduation, individuals with an NMD or ND degree must pass the NPLEX before taking the state licensure exam. The requirements for certification include successful completion of an approved naturopathic physician degree program and passing the NPLEX exam. The certification is valid for a year. In order to re-certify, the NMD/ND must complete 20 hours of approved continuing education each year.

Step 5: Fulfill State Licensure Requirements

Licensure requirements for NMD/NDs vary by state. Generally, states require the applicant to have graduated from an accredited school; to submit fingerprints and pass a criminal background check; to have no mental health or substance abuse issues; and to pass either the NPLEX exam or a state-sponsored exam in naturopathic medicine. In states that do not license naturopathic doctors, NDs/NMDs generally hold another professional health care degree and corresponding state-recognized license and offer naturopathic services to clients under their state-recognized license.

Step 6: Participate in a Residency Program

After graduation, some naturopathic physicians choose to complete a residency program. Although naturopathic residencies are not required in most jurisdictions, residencies provide essential experience and enhance skills. In lieu of a residency, many new graduates practice with or shadow an experienced ND for a year or two to gain more extensive hands-on experience in naturopathic medicine. Such opportunities provide naturopathic physicians with the edge needed to obtain employment in the field.

Naturopathic physicians have doctoral degrees and state licenses to practice; they use medical and therapeutic equipment to diagnose and administer therapeutic treatment; and they earn a median annual salary of $74,710.

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