Are naturopaths regulated professionals and how are they different from medical doctors?
Physicians who practise traditional (Western) medicine train for four years in an accredited medical school, write federal licensing exams and then complete post-graduate training in the chosen area of interest. As with all medical specialties, there are credentialed examinations following that training, either with the Canadian College of Family Physicians or the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada. Physicians are regulated across Canada.
Licensed naturopathic doctors (NDs) are regulated by the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors (CAND) in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Nova Scotia; all other provinces and territories are actively seeking regulation. The American School of Naturopathy graduated its first class in 1902 and by 1920 naturopathic practice was established in Canada. According to CAND, training includes three years of premedical sciences at a university followed by four years at an accredited college program for naturopathy (there are two in Canada). In addition there are board exams used by all licensing jurisdictions for naturopathic doctors. The Council of Naturopathic Medical Education sets the educational standards for this profession. Provincial health care programs do not cover naturopaths’ fees, though some private extended health insurance plans do.
CAND defines naturopathy as blending modern scientific knowledge with traditional and natural forms of medicine. Its philosophy is to stimulate the healing power of the body to treat underlying causes of disease. In addition to diet and lifestyle changes, natural therapies (including botanical medicine, clinical nutrition, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, naturopathic manipulation and traditional Chinese medicine/acupuncture), may also be used during treatments.
While some of these areas are common to both naturopaths and traditionally trained physicians, there are many differences between the two approaches. I counsel my patients to always be clear that the advice being given is founded in scientific evidence and studies. It is critical that we not assume the word natural means without harm.
Be aware of the different approaches of the naturopath and the traditional family physician or pediatrician before you make a decision as to who is best suited to offer primary health care to your child.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, February/March 2012.