In the medical field, one ends up answering a lot of questions. Being a naturopathic doctor (ND) means I have to answer even more, particularly about what I do. Luckily for me, I love answering those questions. I’ve found that many people are already familiar with what an ND does, but many have never heard of it.
I enjoyed a great opportunity to spread the word about naturopathic medicine on June 12th, during a free information session at the Aurora Public Library, with Eating Disorders of York Region’s Riverwalk Wellness Centres. Spreading awareness about eating disorders is crucial, equally so is awareness about treatment options and support.
If you are unfamiliar with naturopathic medicine, you are not alone. Hopefully this article will answer some of your questions and kindle your curiosity.
To start off, NDs are indeed licensed doctors – we help sick people get better. In Canada, there are actually many similarities between NDs and conventional doctors (MDs). We receive a similar 4-year, full time post-graduate education that includes modern assessments, diagnosis, and treatment in an accredited institution. That includes a full year of clinical internship after which students write a grueling four-day licensing examination in order to receive a license.
The major differences lie in the philosophy and approach to achieving health. Superficially, one big difference is that we avoid the use of pharmaceuticals unless absolutely necessary. In emergency situations, where trauma is involved, or in high-risk acute infections, conventional medicine accomplishes miracles on a daily basis. In routine primary care settings however, naturopathic medicine has more to offer.
There is a set of guiding principles that each ND has sworn to uphold, and they go a long way in describing what we do:
– First, do no harm – we start with the least invasive and safest therapies while being vigilant about interactions between pharmaceuticals and our medicines. The safety of our therapies for our patients is a primary concern.
– Use the healing power of nature – our first-line therapies come from nature and tradition. These include herbal medicines, exercise counseling, nutritional supplements, acupuncture, water therapy, and hands-on therapies.
– Identify and treat the cause – disease symptoms are simply your body’s messages to you that something went awry. Treating the symptoms alone will not address the underlying problem. That would be akin to putting a sticker over your car’s ‘check engine’ light so you can’t see it, and never actually fixing the engine. Finding the root of one’s illness while addressing the symptoms is the cornerstone of naturopathic medicine.
– Treat the whole person – human beings are more than just the sum of their anatomy. Our lives are shaped by everything around us – our physiology, lifestyle, personal relationships, stress, environment, diet, and mental and spiritual health. As an ND I endeavor to ensure that all those areas are cared for, because they all directly impact health. The approach is gentler, thorough, and allows people to tell their story and be truly heard.
– Doctor as teacher – this is my personal favorite principle. We have the luxury of time with our patients, and that allows me to explain and educate patients on their conditions and the therapies I use. Patients always feel more in control and empowered to get better when they know what’s going on.
– Prevention – preventing an illness in the first place is always better than trying to cure it once it’s there.
For those seeking alternative or complimentary health care, licensed NDs are by far the most qualified to provide that support. Conventional medicine simply does not provide training in alternative therapies. Having said that, NDs are by no means “anti-conventional medicine”. I would even venture to say that most NDs seek professional relationships with MDs to provide the absolute best care for patients. Prevention and alternative therapies can ease the burden of chronic illness on the healthcare systems and prevent prolonged hospitalizations. More and more private insurance companies are beginning to realize this as well, and offer coverage for visits to an ND. Check out your policy – you may have more health care options than you thought!
For more information, check out these websites: