Why 'Naturopathic Medicine' is an Oxymoron

By Julianna LeMieux — Nov 16, 2016
The process to become a naturopath has been packaged to resemble actual medicine. The degree earned even contains the word "doctor," as in Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. But in comparing the education that physicians and naturopaths obtain in order to prepare for their professions reveals a significant difference.

With more and more stories crossing my path of people (mostly children) being hospitalized or dying at the hand of a naturopath, I could not help but wonder.... what does it take to become a naturopath? 

Like the profession, the training process to become a naturopath has been packaged to resemble actual medicine. The degree earned even contains the word 'doctor' - Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. 

Comparing the education that physicians and naturopaths obtain in order to prepare for their professions reveals a large difference between the two. Although both schools have a four year program - the similarities end there. 

One place where naturopathic and medical education are the same is the price tag. The average annual cost for a year at Bastyr University is $40K. 

However, when you look under the hood, at the admission requirements, a clear line is drawn in the sand between the two. The average undergraduate GPA of an entering medical school class is around 3.7 with a strict 3.0 cutoff for admissions. And, medical schools typically have acceptance rates in the single digits. 

The average GPA of the entering class at naturopathic schools hovers around 3.0, with the school's websites suggesting a minimum of a 2.0 (that's a "C".) The Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine (in Canada) calls a GPA of 2.7 competitive. Also, the acceptance rates are upwards of 60 - 70% with University of Bridgeport reporting 100%. 

Although the descriptions of the naturopathic curriculum describes the first two years as studying basic sciences such as biology and chemistry - when you look into the coursework offered at Bastyr University for the first fall semester, some of the classes are 

  • Integrated Structure and Function Lecture/Lab
  • Integrated Musculoskeletal Lecture/Lab
  • Constitutional Assessment
  • Naturopathic Theory and Practice
  • Therapeutic Alliance
  • Clinical Skills Lab
  • Integrated Case Studies
  • Clinic Observation

This coursework does not even come close to resembling the intense scientific study of a first year medical student which typically includes classes such as molecular biology, biochemistry and cadaver lab. What is therapeutic alliance? And, why do a bunch of the classes start with the word 'integrated' - is that a natural way to say 'kind've'? 

And, just when you thought that students may actually learn something in Integrated Cardiovascular and Immune Systems, Integrated Respiratory System and Integrated Digestive System, take a look at the topics included in years three and four (with a little flair added by my colleague, Dr. Josh Bloom.) 

  • Clinical Nutrition (The Zero Gravity Diet)
  • Botanical Medicine (Building a Volkswagen from parsley)
  • Lifestyle Counseling (Real Medicine is for suckers) 
  • Mind-Body Medicine (Alternatives to Alternative Medicine)
  • Massage (Why spa treatments make you feel good) 
  • Physical Medicine (Living without DNA) 
  • Hydrotherapy (How to make it rain in your office) 
  • Homeopathy (Bowling - no ball or pins)

After completing 'school' (there are a lot of air quotes in this article) there is a licensure to become a naturopath, which can be obtained by passing the licensing exam referred to as the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination (NPLEX.) The test is only given at nine sites spread throughout the USA. After you add up the travel costs and all of the other costs of the exam, you can see why naturopaths need to sell all of those supplements! The fees to sit for the exam are extensive, costing a minimum of $1000. 

Money is one of the areas where even naturopaths can admit the difference between themselves and physicians. In a salary survey conducted in 2015, the mean annual salary for naturopaths after graduating was $89,392. The mean annual salary for a physician was $284,000 (specialists) and $195,000 for a PCP.  

It is clear, when you look at the low admission requirements and the lack of rigor in the curriculum, that naturopaths are not equal to physicians. To that end, they should not be sought out for medical care or take on the responsibility of treating the same ailments as medical physicians. 

The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC) website states that "NDs and MDs represent two distinct branches of the medical tree." I would like to see that tree, because, it must have some very, very long branches. 


1) https://aanmc.org/naturopathic-schools/


There are five schools of naturopathy in the United States.  

  • Bastyr Univeristy (Seattle, WA and San Diego, CA
  • National University of Natural Medicine (Portland, OR
  • Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences (Phoenix, AZ
  • University of Bridgeport College of Naturopathic Medicine (Bridgeport, CT
  • National University of Health Sciences (Chicago, IL)