12/18/2012 12:37 pm ET Updated Feb 17, 2013

Naturopathic Doctors Fill in Gap in Physician Shortage

In this cogent and timely editorial in the New York Times, a good case is made, in light of the severe shortage of primary care doctors, that the American medical scene should make better use of non-MD options for patient care. Missing from the list of options was naturopathic doctors. Though our numbers are small, naturopathic doctors (NDs) have the ability to provide needed care, especially in underserved areas. Licensable naturopathic doctors attend four-year, in-residence, full-time naturopathic medical school at institutions recognized by regional accrediting bodies. Schools are recognized by the Federal Department of Education, and students are eligible for federal loan monies. Sixteen states, the District of Columbia, and the United States territories of Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands have laws licensing NDs and in many states where there is not current licensure efforts to gain it are in place. NDs must graduate from an accredited naturopathic medical school and pass an extensive postdoctoral board examination (NPLEX) in order to receive a license.

Many naturopathic doctors work in private practice settings or as part of integrative medicine teams. We use industry standards of taking a patient history, are trained to perform complete physical exam or relevant physicals depending on the presenting patient. We are schooled in state-of-the-art diagnostic procedures from laboratory ordering and review, referral for appropriate diagnostic imaging when indicated, and both refer to and receive referrals from across the medical spectrum. With regard to treatment, naturopathic doctors work with natural medicine modalities including therapeutic nutrition, botanical medicine, Chinese medicine and lifestyle modification.

With the current and impending shortage of MDs and the increasing openness to natural medicine in the general population, NDs should be high on the list of providers to bridge the gap in our imminent provider shortage.

For information about naturopathic medicine, see:

To find a naturopathic doctor, see:

For more by Amy Rothenberg, N.D., click here.

For more on natural health, click here.