How to Choose The Right Naturopathic Doctor

If you’re looking for the right naturopathic doctor, there are some important things to consider. Naturopathic doctors (NDs) work in a variety of settings ranging from private practices to community health centers. Their educational background and credentials vary, so it’s important to do your research.

The first step is to ensure your ND is a licensed doctor, and not just a traditional naturopath. A licensed ND is educated in the same basic sciences as an MD, but also studies holistic and nontoxic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness. They must also pass a licensing exam. Traditional naturopaths do not possess a medical degree or licensure and are often certified in just 2-4 weeks. 

Naturopathic Doctor

1. Traditional Naturopath vs. Naturopathic Doctors- What’s the Difference?

Before you select your practitioner, make sure they are a licensed doctor. Traditional naturopaths and NDs share a common goal, which is to help the body heal with natural substances through a holistic approach, but the training and regulations are quite different. Licensed naturopathic doctors must obtain a 4-year undergraduate degree in specific subjects, followed by a 4-year post-graduate degree from a naturopathic medical school.

An ND’s level of training is comparable to an MD’s but with different philosophies behind their studies. In contrast, the training, scope of practice, and regulatory status of traditional naturopaths vary in each state and their treatment modalities are more limited. Licensed NDs are trained to diagnose disease and prescribe medication, while naturopaths are not. In certain states where naturopathic medicine is not yet regulated, traditional naturopaths can assume the title of “naturopathic doctor,” which presents confusion when selecting a doctor. So, start by determining a naturopathic physician’s actual licensure and credentials before seeking their care. 

2. Determine the ND’s Licensure and Credentials

There are two essential considerations in choosing your ND. First, they must hold a naturopathic medical degree from a four-year, in-residence naturopathic medical college. And second, they must have passed the national board examination to obtain licensure through a certification process. To ensure your doctor is highly qualified, look for a degree from one of these 5 accredited naturopathic medical programs in the United States:

  1. National University of Natural Medicine
  2. Bastyr University
  3. National University of Health Sciences
  4. University of Bridgeport- College of Naturopathic Medicine
  5. Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine

You can locate an ND and verify their credentials by checking this naturopathic doctor directory provided by the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians. Not every state regulates naturopathic medicine yet, so see if your state is regulated by checking this map of territories possessing or seeking licensure.

Currently, more than 25 areas in the United States regulate and permit the practice of NDs. Others are in the process of regulating licensure. If you live in an unlicensed state or your ND is not in the directory, it’s likely they’re a traditional naturopath, not a licensed ND. Naturopathic doctors are licensed in the following territories:

  •  Alaska
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Colorado
  • Connecticut
  • District of Columbia
  • Hawaii
  • Idaho
  • Kansas
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Montana
  • New Hampshire
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • Oregon
  • Pennsylvania
  • Rhode Island
  • Utah
  • Vermont
  • Washington
  • Puerto Rico
  • The Virgin Islands

3. Inquire About the ND’s Treatment Modalities

An appointment with a licensed ND has some similarities to a visit with an MD. Your ND should take your medical history and perform a physical exam like any medical doctor. Many NDs, like Dr. Karen Threlkel, even partner with MDs, medical acupuncturists, nutritionists, integrative psychotherapists, or physical therapists for comprehensive care. But licensed NDs should take a more holistic approach than MDs, rather than just looking at the symptoms. Ask questions to learn about their treatment modalities.

  • Ask if They Take a Holistic Approach

Ask if your prospective ND is trained to investigate health issues from a broader perspective, incorporating things like lifestyle, food, stress level, and environmental pollutants in your diagnosis. While NDs use conventional labs like MDs, they also use functional labs that identify behaviors, patterns, and systemic imbalances that prompt symptoms. An MD might look for things like bleeding or polyps with gastrointestinal patients, but NDs take that information and dive even deeper into things like bacteria levels, gut function, and hurdles to healing. 

  • Ask How They Diagnose and Prescribe

NDs consider contributing factors like prescription medications, supplements, and co-existing conditions. They can order diagnostic tests as needed and establish a customized care plan to manage your health. If needed, NDs can also consult with their team or refer you to other practitioners for the best solutions.  NDs and MDs are different but not mutually exclusive, in that they often work together for your care. NDs understand conventional medicine and can use it to diagnose and treat. But they’re also trained in safe and effective natural strategies.

  • Ask About Their Natural Solutions 

NDs can provide botanical medicines, hydrotherapy, and natural solutions that work better than, or in conjunction with, traditional medicines. They are experts in lifestyle solutions and non-invasive techniques that heal without doing more harm.  Before you select an ND, make sure their mode of care involves finding the root cause of your symptoms by understanding your overall health. One way to determine this is by asking how long each appointment takes. The first visit with an ND may last an hour, so your ND can learn about your health history, as opposed to the typical 15-minute exam with an MD.

How to Choose The Right Naturopathic Doctor | Naturopathic Dr

Why the Right ND Makes All the Difference

Naturopathic doctors like Dr. Karen Threlkel offer innovative solutions that help where traditional medicine can’t. They get to the root of your condition before advising a treatment plan. As such, the treatment is often less invasive when you partner with an ND who takes time to understand your symptoms. NDs help prevent the overuse of harmful treatments like narcotic prescriptions and unnecessary surgery. They also form a connection with patients and follow up on their treatment for continual care.

Dr. Karen Threlkel provides her patients with a full range of naturopathic medical services, including naturopathic medical assessment, specialty laboratory testing, bioidentical hormone replacement therapy, detoxification, nutritional supplementation, and herbal medicine.

She holds a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine degree from what is now the National University of Natural Medicine, and a Bachelor’s Degree in Kinesiology from the University of Maryland at College Park. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is also a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians and is a past president and current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

To learn more about choosing the right ND or to schedule an appointment, contact us today. We look forward to turning your health around the natural way. 

About The Author:

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Karen Threlkel, Naturopathic Physician, Washington DC

Dr. Threlkel received her degree of Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine from The National College for Naturopathic Medicine (now called The National University of Natural Medicine) in Portland, Oregon. She also holds a Bachelor Degree in Kinesiology from The University of Maryland. She is licensed in Naturopathic Medicine by the Government of the District of Columbia Department of Health. Dr. Threlkel is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, past president & current member of the Washington DC Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

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