Choosing a naturopathic doctor

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A few winters ago, Mary took a fall in her garage after slipping on a wet surface. Besides a few minor bruises, she also tweaked her shoulder. Several months after the fall, Mary was still in pain, and she was having trouble sleeping on her left side. Her family doctor said shoulder surgery was the only means of recovery.

Frustrated, Mary took a friend’s suggestion and made an appointment with a naturopathic doctor, who worked with her using a combination of natural pain relief medications, dietary supplements and holistic treatments. Mary’s shoulder pain improved within a few weeks. Now, her diet and lifestyle habits also reflect her naturopathic doctor’s recommendations.

It’s no secret that integrative healthcare is becoming more and more popular. Many people are now choosing to treat themselves with complementary and alternative medicine; in 2012, about 33 percent of U.S. adults used natural healthcare approaches and the numbers are steadily increasing.

Naturopathic doctors, or NDs, integrate traditional healing methods, principles and practices with holistic, natural diagnosis and treatments. They may also use physiological, psychological or mechanical approaches as well as natural medicines, prescription drugs, foods, herbs or other remedies. By using protocols that enable the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health, a naturopathic physician aims to detect and eliminate barriers to good health by helping to create a healing environment both internally and externally.

Naturopathic physicians work in private practices, hospitals, clinics and community health centers. NDs practice throughout the United States and Canada. According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, an ND attends a four-year, graduate-level naturopathic medical school and is educated in all of 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.

A naturopathic physician takes professional board exams so that he or she may be licensed by a state or jurisdiction as a primary care general practice physician. Currently, 17 states have licensing or regulation laws for naturopathic doctors. Licensed physicians must fulfill state-mandated continuing education requirements annually, and must have a specific scope of practice as defined by their state’s law.

It is important to distinguish between a naturopath and a licensed naturopathic physician, or ND. A licensed ND went to four years of medical school and completed clinical practice time, and a naturopath did not. It can be difficult to tell the two apart, so make sure to do your research and ask for credentialsbefore making an appointment. Here are some other helpful tips.

Ask family and friends who they use, why they use them and how their treatment is going. When the people you know and trust recommend someone who will be helping you with your health and wellbeing, try it!

Sit down and speak with someone whom you might choose as a naturopathic doctor. Get a feel for their practice and their overall knowledge. Research online before scheduling an office visit. Check their website; look to see that they are certified and reach out to patients.

What Kind of Example Do They Set?
When it comes to holistic and natural living, it is important to practice what you preach and you can usually tell how your doctor measures up to basic expectations. Does your doctor have normal weight? How is their energy level? Do they look good for their age? Trusting someone with your health is a big commitment. Make sure your naturopath is actively seeking exceptional health themselves and following their own philosophies.

How Do You Feel?
The most important factor in working with an ND is whether you trust the person to take care of your health. It’s okay to like someone for their personality, but when dealing with your health you want to be confident of your healthcare provider’s knowledge, ability and bedside manner.

When visiting with you for your first time, your doctor will typically ask you why you made the appointment in the first place. Expect to discuss your health history, diet, stress levels, tobacco and alcohol use and basic lifestyle. Your doctor should perform an examination and order any diagnostic tests they feel would be helpful. They will more than likely work with you to develop a customized health management plan and educate you about ways to improve your health. If necessary, your doctor will refer you to other health-care practitioners. Expect a first-time visit to last anywhere from one to two hours with any follow-up visits lasting from 30 to 60 minutes.

Although naturopathic medicine may be considered a little “out there” by some, what naturopathic physicians do is becoming less alternative and more conventional every day. By combining modern science with nature, naturopathic physicians can provide progressive care while giving their patients hopeful options.■

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