How are they the same? How are they different? How to chose?
An ND stands for Naturopathic Doctor, an MD stands for Medical Doctor. ND’s are considered Alternative while MD’s are considered Conventional.
In full disclosure, I am an ND and therefore may have some bias in this matter. I have rarely gone to an MD, (though I have watched Gray’s Anatomy.) I am basing this comparison on the Naturopathic Principles.
First, we are the same in our primary principle of Do No Harm. Neither of us wants to harm our patients. We have studied hard and long hours for number of years. We have learned to analyze the scientific studies and journals to keep up to date. We have learned to asses the benefits vs. the risks to make sure we do as little harm as possible. We do not want to harm any one.
Our education is very similar. We have almost the same number of hours of study, though our study focus is different. ND’s spend more time learning about herbal medicine, homeopathy, nutrition and physical medicine as well as the foundations of health. MD’s spend more hours of observation of patient care. We both learn by working directly with patients, taking their cases, assessing labs and treatments under supervision. We both end up with huge school loan debt in exchange for a valuable education.
We both take grueling board exams and are licensed by the state to practice medicine. ND’s are currently only licensed in 22 states. ND’s are licensed as primary care doctors and can get certification in some specialties. MD’s may go on and study for additional boards and licensing as specialist.
Thirdly, we both have a desire to treat the cause of the dis-ease of the patient, though ND’s tend to look at more than one symptom to see if there is a common cause. An MD will often treat the presenting symptom and may not ask about other issues, which if they exist may be cause for referral to a specialist. With a symptom like GERD an MD may prescribe a PPI (Proton Pump Inhibitors) and send the patient to a dermatologist for the skin rash they have and to an orthopedic MD for the pain in their knee. An ND will likely look at all 3 issues and wonder what do they have in common, perhaps inflammation or toxic overload. An ND would look at diet and environment, and stress to help eliminate the root cause as well as giving some herbs or homeopathic or nutritional suggestions for the immediate relief.
Next, a naturopathic doctor believes in the healing power of nature. We believe that the body has an amazing ability to heal which we can support by starting with the foundations of health. Are you getting enough rest, what does your diet look like, how do you eat, how much water are you drinking versus other beverages. What kind of stressors do you have in your life. While an MD may touch on these they don’t spend much time. They believe in the healing power of the drugs they give, which may relieve but not cure.
Doctor comes from Docere which means to teach. A naturopath believes in taking the time to teach people about how they can improve their health, and empower them with choices. An MD may want to do so, but because of the medical system and insurance companies restriction they are not given the time to do so. Appointments are short and focused on just the presenting problem, but I believe this is the health care and insurance system preventing MD’s from docere.
One of the big differences in our philosophy is prevention. It is a key principle of ND to prevent illness/disease. We work to help our patients to live a long healthy life. MD are just not given that education or time to address issues that may limit one’s health. We call them obstacles to cure. More often than not it means making changes to improve one’s foundation. Patients need doctors to be patient and supportive in making those changes. MD’s might claim that giving vaccines is preventative but they offer little else.
MD’s are really good at emergencies, at fixing broken bones, heart attacks, strokes, comas, and traumas. They are good at acute, severe and life threatening illness. If you have one of these issues go to an MD, go to one of the specialists. They see these conditions more often, they have the equipment, testing and medicines to stop or mitigate problems. As ND’s we can help after the life threatening level has been managed. If you need a triple by-pass because of clogged arteries by all means get that addressed. Those arteries took years to clog and a few days or weeks of naturopathic care will not likely improve the arteries. But after the surgery and healing, come see an ND to get support to prevent further clogging.
So you have a choice ND or MD. Sometimes one, sometimes the other, and if it’s not life threatening, maybe see us both. Get second or third opinions. Take what works from both your ND and MD. We can all work together. And may you live long and prosper.