Naturopathic Physicians, in many states who license them, hold wide scopes of practices as primary care physicians. This scope includes minor surgery, prescription drugs, counseling and referral services, vaccinations, laboratory testing and diagnosis, as well as botanical medicine, nutrition, physical medicine and vitamin therapy.
Naturopathic Physicians are quite common in the western US, Canada, and some of the New England states. Washington DC, California, Washington State, Oregon, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont are just some of the states that license Naturopathic Physicians. Most states, which license Naturopathic Physicians, offer insurance coverage to their patients. In some states such as Washington, insurance coverage for Naturopathic Physicians is mandatory by law. Some states have not yet passed laws to license Naturopathic Physicians.
Naturopathic Physicians, like MDs and DOs, graduate from fully accredited medical schools, acquire clinical experience as interns and do residencies. Naturopathic Physicians take both science and clinical National Board Exams and hold a state health department license in a state that recognizes Naturopathic Physicians.
A naturopathic student, along with the intensive coursework of conventional medical school (the sciences, clinical skills, diagnosis, pharmacy), must also study extensive classes in botanical medicine, nutritional therapy, and physical medicine.
While Naturopathic Physicians, in licensed states, treat all disease, it is without question that we are best trained to make an impact on chronic disease such as arthritis, allergies, and skin problems. Naturopathic Physicians are excellent for patients who may be in conventional treatment using high intervention therapies but want help managing side effects of drugs or want to increase the speed of recovery from surgery. In fact, in some states, Naturopathic Physicians and MDs have a strong co-management and referral relationship due to the fact that MDs are highly trained to treat acute disease and Naturopathic Physicians for chronic. Cancer Treatment Centers of America is an example of such a clinic.
In addition to learning less invasive treatments, a naturopathic student must study the philosophy of naturopathy. A Naturopathic Physician follows the therapeutic order of least intervention to most intervention. We use all medicine but not without following the therapeutic order. This means we start with the basic determinants of health: ie. food, water, air, exercise, healthy relationships. Only when stronger medicine is required, do we move to higher interventions: ie. food herbs, vitamin and mineral supplementation, and physical medicine. In some cases, we then step up to the highest interventions when necessary: medicinal herbs, surgery and pharmaceutical drugs. (Some states have not yet passd laws for licensed Naturopathic Physicans to practice as mentioned in the text above.)
It is important to understand that Naturopathic Physicians believe that all medicine has a place and it is up to the skill and experience of the physician to determine when a particular medicine should be administered, whether natural or synthetic, non-invasive or invasive.