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ND vs MD: What Is a Naturopathic Doctor?

Written by Portland Clinic of Natural Health on September 19, 2023

The medical landscape today is rich and diverse, offering patients an array of choices regarding their healthcare.

Two of the primary figures in this realm are Medical Doctors (MDs) and Naturopathic Doctors or Physicians (NDs). Both are dedicated to patient care, but their approaches, training, and areas of specialty can differ substantially. Here, we explore ND vs MD.

Educational Background

Medical Doctors (MDs)

MDs attend allopathic medical schools where they undergo rigorous training in conventional medicine. Their education encompasses basic sciences, clinical sciences, and several years of patient care under supervision.

After earning their degrees, they undertake residencies, which are extended periods of specialized training in specific areas of medicine.

Naturopathic Doctors (NDs)

NDs graduate from accredited naturopathic medical schools. Their training, while also rigorous, combines standard medical curricula with holistic and nontoxic approaches to therapy. NDs study traditional therapies like botanical medicine, nutrition, hydrotherapy, and more.

Philosophical Approach

Medical Doctors (MDs)

MDs primarily follow a conventional medical model, diagnosing and treating diseases, often with pharmaceuticals, surgeries, and other medical procedures. The primary aim is often to treat symptoms and diseases directly.

Naturopathic Doctors (NDs)

NDs emphasize a holistic approach, focusing on the whole individual. They seek to identify the underlying causes of diseases, promoting the body's inherent healing capabilities. NDs often prioritize prevention, nutrition, lifestyle changes, and the use of natural therapies.

Licensure and Regulation

Medical Doctors (MDs)

MDs are licensed by medical boards in each state. They have to pass national exams (USMLE) and meet specific residency training requirements to practice.

Naturopathic Doctors (NDs)

ND licensure varies by state. In states that license NDs, they must graduate from an accredited naturopathic medical school and pass an examination (NPLEX) to practice.

Scope of Practice

Medical Doctors (MDs)

MDs have a broad scope of practice, which can encompass everything from primary care to specialized surgical procedures. They can prescribe medications, perform surgeries, and offer a range of medical interventions.

Naturopathic Doctors (NDs)

The scope of practice for NDs varies widely by state. In licensed states, their range can include everything from nutritional counseling and herbal remedies to prescription medicines and minor surgeries. Some states have more restrictive practices for NDs.

ND vs MD: Outcome

Both MDs and NDs play essential roles in the healthcare sector. While they share the common goal of helping patients achieve optimal health, their methodologies, training, and treatment approaches differ. Whether choosing conventional medicine, naturopathic medicine, or a blend of both, patients now have diverse options to tailor their healthcare to fit their needs best.

Harnessing the Body's Healing Capabilities: The Special Focus of Naturopathic Doctors (NDs)

A cornerstone of naturopathic medicine is believing in the body's intrinsic ability to heal itself. Whereas conventional medical approaches might target and treat symptoms directly, Naturopathic Doctors (NDs) often delve deeper, aiming to stimulate and support the body's natural healing mechanisms. This approach can be particularly effective for chronic conditions, where simply managing symptoms doesn't always address the root cause of the issue.

To harness these healing forces, NDs employ a diverse array of therapies. These can range from botanical and nutritional treatments, homeopathy, physical medicine, and lifestyle counseling, among others. The objective is to create an environment where the body can best mend itself. For example, an ND might recommend specific dietary changes to combat chronic inflammation or suggest stress-reducing techniques to bolster the immune system.

By addressing the underlying imbalances and disturbances that contribute to chronic issues, NDs aim to facilitate long-lasting recovery rather than just temporary relief. Their focus on prevention and holistic well-being often results in treatments that not only target specific ailments but also promote overall health and vitality.


  1. American Medical Association (AMA). Becoming a Medical Doctor. Retrieved from https://www.ama-assn.org/.
  2. Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC). Naturopathic Doctor Education. Retrieved from https://www.aanmc.org/.
  3. Medical Board of California. Physician's and Surgeon's License. Retrieved from https://www.mbc.ca.gov/.
  4. American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). Definition of Naturopathic Medicine. Retrieved from https://www.naturopathic.org/.
  5. Federation of State Medical Boards (FSMB). State-Specific Requirements for Initial Medical Licensure. Retrieved from https://www.fsmb.org/.
  6. North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners (NABNE). NPLEX Examination. Retrieved from https://www.nabne.org/.
  7. American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS). Board Certification. Retrieved from https://www.abms.org/.
  8. Naturopathic Medicine Institute (NMI). Scope of Practice. Retrieved from https://naturopathicmedicineinstitute.org/.

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