Join us for a fascinating journey as we go in-depth to compare the differences in rights and training between licensed naturopaths, traditional naturopaths, and conventional medical doctors

What is now referred to as ‘traditional’ naturopathy was once simply known as ‘naturopathy’.

Once upon a time, there was just ‘medicine’, now there’s alternative medicine, complementary medicine, natural medicine, herbal medicine, holistic medicine, conventional medicine, functional medicine, predictive medicine, and integrative medicine.

Now, there are two different kinds of naturopathy — licensed and traditional, at least in the United States and Canada.

What we teach at Rockwell would be considered traditional naturopathy. This was the only kind of naturopathy taught from the early turn of the century when the ideologies of naturopathy, “nature cure” and “vitalism” were first conceived.

“The term naturopathy was coined in 1895 by John Scheel,[23] and purchased by Benedict Lust, whom naturopaths consider to be the “Father of U.S. Naturopathy”.[24]

This was way before NUNM in Oregon and Bastyr of California, (two of the first naturopathic colleges, originally ‘traditional’ themselves) fought for the rights to ‘license’ naturopaths. 

Founders of these institutions felt their grads were sufficiently trained and qualified and should therefore have the same right to practice with the same authority as conventional medical doctors.

TND vs. ND vs. MD: More differences than just professional designation…

Licensed naturopaths are different than traditional naturopaths in that they have the some of the same rights as medical doctors, depending on the state in question.

For example, licensed naturopathic physicians are given some of the same prescriptive rights as medical doctors in 23 or so states where licensing is available, but with some restrictions.

Please read this article, Traditional Naturopathy vs. Licensed Naturopathy: A 2020 Update, before continuing.  

Now, if you just read that short article, you are much more informed on the specific rights and limitations with regard to licensed naturopathic physicians.

Naturopathic Physicians: Employ natural therapies, but can resort to the use of conventional medical care if needed (usually with some restrictions, but not always).

Traditional Naturopaths: Employ natural therapies, with a focus on prevention and alternative therapies for chronic disease, but can refer out conventional medical care if needed for acute situations. 

Medical Doctor: Employ conventional medical treatments, do not usually believe in natural therapies, nor are they aware which ones exist, to what extent, or how they should be applied / utilized.

We, as holistic practitioners, present information and knowledge of evidence-based natural medicine and alternative therapies that conventional medical doctors and the general public are not usually aware of —tools that might make the difference between life and death or their entire quality of life. 

We focus on developing a multifaceted approach for the whole person which encompasses addressing an individual’s emotional, spiritual, and physical well being. 

This is really important, because conventional medical doctors do not learn these things in med school.

In fact, a lot of what Rockwell teaches, licensed naturopaths never get to study, either. Just compare the curriculums —ours and theirs

This doesn’t mean we are better —we are just different. Both programs are interesting, but ours is more practical and affordable for most people. 

Terminology & Use of ND vs. TND

Before licensed naturopathy, most traditional naturopaths used the professional designation of “ND”, however that has been taken over by the licensed naturopath.

—And it makes sense, but traditional naturopaths did use ‘ND’ first for several decades. Consequently, not everyone was happy about that as I’m sure you can imagine. 

Of course, you will still find some traditional naturopaths in unlicensed states using ND, but technically it’s a faux paux.

Because eventually, all states will most likely be licensed —and only licensed naturopaths will be able to use ND as their professional designation. It’s probably better to accept that now. 

The traditional naturopath, however may now use TND or CHHP (for Certified Holistic Health Practitioner).

We were actually the first holistic medicine school to start using TND, after which New Eden and Trinity School of Natural Health followed suit.  The latter, after a brief stint of disbanding their naturopath program altogether in lieu of using only the CHHP concept.

We can only speculate that this was a legal issue for Trinity, because their traditional naturopath grads were using ‘ND’, and many have infamously made the news on more than one occasion.  

Of course, some old school, traditionally trained naturopaths are not happy about this and many still continue to use ND to this day, at least in the states that don’t offer licensing to naturopathic physicians. —More about that soon.

You can read more about use of ND, TND, and CHHP here.

Which one is better? Traditional naturopathy or licensed naturopathy?

That’s like asking if conventional medicine is superior to naturopathy as a whole. Yes, some people may automatically jump to the conclusion that the licensed naturopathic physician is better than the traditional naturopath. This just isn’t so.

Both licensed and traditional naturopaths are wonderful in their own ways, and they each have different strengths and imitations, which we explore below.

The same applies to conventional medical doctors. Truly, I hear from people all the time that their doctor doesn’t know anything about cutting-edge therapies for their illness, and they feel ‘unheard’ and frustrated with their conventional care. We definitely need healthcare reform.

One of the most important things is to remove the AMA dictating med school curriculum, which is heavily, if not predominantly based on big pharma, or studying of ‘band-aid’ solutions instead of ‘root-cause’ solutions…

This focuses on treating symptoms instead of root causes. This creates a cycle where people are taking drugs the rest of their lives with untold side effects, like Tardive Dyskinesia

Strengths & Weakness in Education & Practice

The licensed naturopath will definitely have a much stronger clinical experience, with a greater focus on homeopathy and hydrotherapy, bordering with conventional medicine and blending the two.

They do also learn a decent amount of Chinese Medicine and acupuncture, which is lovely. We study a bit of Chinese medicine, as well. And we study acupressure, not acupuncture

The traditional naturopath from Rockwell will comparatively have a more diverse background, most likely having been given the opportunity to study more modalities, such as medical ozone, color therapy, aromatherapy, flower essences, and sodium bicarbonate (to name a few).

Students in the traditional naturopathic program at Rockwell study a literal plethora of modalities with few exceptions to the field.

Our grads are ultra well rounded and knowledgeable.

We would love to see a debate with a traditional naturopath and a licensed naturopath just for fun!

For now, TNDs are not NDs and vice versa. Both are strong in their knowledge! Rockwell naturopaths are very strong!

Accredited Naturopathic Colleges & Education Programs

Stay with us —this can be a bit confusing.

According to the AANMC (Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges), there are only 8 college campuses in all of North America which offer an accredited naturopathic program.

Bastyr in the USA has two campuses, one in Seattle, WA and one in San Diego, CA which make a total of 7 colleges, and 8 campuses offering an accredited naturopathic program.

However, if you read the above referenced article at the beginning of this piece, you saw that Bridgeport closed their ND program to new applicants in the fall of 2019.

So make that a total of 4 colleges in the USA, and 5 campuses (Bastyr has 2 locations).

The last 2 are BINM (Boucher) and CCNM (Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine), both of which are in Canada.

Below are links each program and an AANMC map for more clarity.

How to Get Into an Accredited Naturopathic College

Naturopathic program prerequisites vary but they do not require a specific test pending acceptance such as the MCAT (Medical College Acceptance Test) which is required for those who wish to get into med school.

We’re curious if you think that’s fair or if you think those entering licensed naturopathy should also have to take a test similar to the MCAT. After all, licensed naturopaths are seeking the same rights as medical doctors in every state. So, what’s ‘fair’?

Do you think licensed naturopaths should also have to qualify themselves in this manner?  Let us know in the comment section. Now let’s get into the topic of education. 

Explore the links below to see each accredited naturopathic college prerequisite and admission requirements.

Here is a helpful link from the CNME on accredited programs for becoming a licensed naturopathic physician. 

For a comparison, Indiana University medical school prerequisites:

  • minimum cumulative and science GPA of 3.6, 30 MCAT

For comparison, here are the requirements for the so called ‘lowly’ PA , —not our thoughts! We love our PAs, but they work so hard for where they are! It is not easy. Here’s IU’s physician assistant program reqs. 

As you will see, it’s very stringent and they do not get the respect they deserve!

Keep in mind, PA’s never become qualified to practice medicine without supervision of a medical doctor.

It’s because they never do a residency.

A physician assistant is someone who can treat, diagnose, and prescribe like a nurse practitioner IF they are working under the jurisdiction of a licensed medical doctor, but not otherwise.

Every year, hundreds apply to various programs across the country, and hundreds are denied. It’s very tough to get into, and they don’t even get independent prescriptive rights, etc.

We show this for comparison to the licensed naturopathy entry requirements – and to show you why critics of licensed naturopathy take issue educationally speaking.

You see, medical doctors and the conventional medical industry are not really fond of the encroaching licensing of naturopaths.

We don’t necessarily agree or disagree. We just want to put it out there that licensed naturopathy is not necessarily well respected in the arena of conventional medicine, despite good intentions. And on paper many say that it “isn’t fair” to NPs, PAs, MDs, etc. 

So here are some additional requirements for the PA: 

  • medical assistant
  • bachelor degree from an accredited college
  • minimum cumulative and pre-req in math / science w/a GPA of 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
  • nurse (LPN or RN) 500 clinical hours volunteering or in a career as a medical assistant, military medic, corpsman, or technician
  • EMT / Paramedic
  • radiology tech
  • physical therapist
  • respiratory therapist
  • nursing assistant


  • Human Anatomy w/lab
  • Human Physiology w/lab
  • Microbiology w/lab
  • General Chemistry I w/lab
  • General Chemistry II w/lab
  • Organic Chemistry w/lab
  • General Biology I w/lab
  • General Biology II w/lab
  • Statistics or Biostatistics
  • Psychology
  • Medical Terminology (1+ credit hours)
  • personal statement
  • letters of reference
  • GRE

Difficulty getting in? Almost impossible.

Overview: ND Programs

  • bachelor degree, preferably science
  • generally a cumulative GPA of 3.0 and 2.0 on science course pre-reqs
  • MCAT (Medical College Acceptance Test) not required
  • difficulty gaining acceptance into a program: unknown
  • naturopathic physicians are trained as generalists and do not choose a medical specialty like 3rd year med students.
  • residency, not required (except in Utah), but strongly encouraged when possible
  • NPLEX (Naturopathic Physician Licensing Examination) taken after graduation to gain licensure in 17 states where applicable & 2 US Territories (for more resources about naturopathic  

Overview: MD Programs

  • bachelor degree, preferably science
  • required minimum GPA usually 3.6 or above
  • required MCAT (Medical College Acceptance Test) above a certain score (with the exception of a few colleges)
  • difficulty gaining acceptance into a program: incredibly competitive
  • choose a medical speciality to focus on during 3rd year of med school
  • mandatory 3-8 year minimum term residency depending on specialty*
  • please read more about what a residency is at another post here
  • required to take the USMLE (United States Medical Licensing Examination) during residency to gain licensure to practice legally in the USA

THe AANMC says their programs are on par with that of medical doctors. —Need I say, not everyone agrees!

Academic & Clinical Hour Comparisons of MD’s & ND’s

According to AANMC, naturopathic physicians are ‘rigorously trained’. The AANMC even goes so far as to say “Some member schools in the AANMC actually require more hours of basic and clinical science than many top allopathic medical schools.” Below is a graph comparing various types of doctors and education hours. The AANMC compares ND curriculum to that of an MD here and below is a graph from their website.

Regarding the graph below, please see this controversial guest post at Science Based Medicine from the author from a woman who went to Bastyr and no longer practices naturopathy due to her doubt on its legitimacy.

Accredited Naturopathic College Curriculum & Coursework

Programs vary widely school to school. To view specific course outlines for the different available naturopathic programs, click on the links below.

Bastyr University

BINM (Boucher Institute of Natural Medicine

NCNM (National College of Natural Medicine)

CCNM (Canadian College of Natural Medicine)

SCNM (Southwest College of Natural Medicine)

NUHS (National University of Health Sciences) Naturopathic Course Outline & Course Descriptions

Here is a sample of the coursework for a naturopathic program directly from the AANMC website,

First two years naturopaths receive a concentration in:

  • Biochemistry
  • Human Physiology
  • Histology
  • Anatomy
  • Marco & Microbiology
  • Immunology
  • Human Pathology
  • Neuroscience
  • Pharmacology

And their last two years, students “intern in clinical settings under the close supervision of licensed professionals.” Coursework includes:

  • Clinical Nutrition
  • Botanical Medicine
  • Homeopathy
  • Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine
  • Lifestyle Counseling
  • Massage
  • Physical Medicine
  • Hydrotherapy

The AANMC says this “results in a well rounded medical education.” 

Doctors & Residency

*Many people do not know what a postgraduate doctor residency actually is.

By the third year of medical school, a doctor has chosen their specialty – meaning whether they want to work in surgery, emergency room, gastroenterology, or psychiatry for example.

Residency is period of advanced medical training and education, usually between 3-8 years, depending on the doctor’s chosen specialty, and consists of supervised practice in a real life clinical setting such as a hospital ER or a rural clinic.  

It is usually a very challenging time, and incredibly rigorous by the most stringent standards. While recent changes now require a doctor in residency to work no more than 80 scheduled hours a week, a visit to any student doctor forum will reveal some student doctors still clock in excess of 80 hours per week.

During this time a new doctor is paid what can average to be minimum wage considering hours invested while their student loans accrue enormous interest. For more info on residency and debt, read this Resident Salary & Debt Report.

A residency is mandatory to becoming a licensed medical doctor. Doctors have on average about 8-12 years from start to finish of school and combined residency requirements in their chosen specialty.

Doctors also have the highest suicide rates of any profession. Some reform may be helpful so that doctors can have more time for family and self-care (exercise + proper diet).

After considering and researching med school, the facts are that most doctors have worked very hard and sacrificed a lot to get where they are. It’s not their fault that the AMA (American Medical Association) sets questionable educational standards with a poor focus on prevention and non-invasive treatment options.

Their education is oversaturated with pharmaceuticals and ‘fix-it-with-a-pill’ medical culture. On top of all of that, doctors now have to pay high costs of education, malpractice insurance, and deal with insurance billing companies and tons of paperwork that may factor in their own health issues mentioned above.

Rarely do doctors simply treat, diagnose and prescribe, but rather they are more employees of hospitals and insurance companies than the romanticized doctors of yore. They are also limited usually in their scope of practice in that they can offer ‘standards of care’ —getting ‘too’ alternative may land them in court and jeopardize their license.

We learned about ‘standards of care’ via Lynne Farrow’s book, The Iodine Crisis, as it relates to breast cancer, wherein she discusses many fallacies with conventional cancer care treatment ‘myths’ —which is really quite chilling in and of itself that doctors ‘have to do what everyone else is doing’ or risk all of their hard work going down the drain. 

In our section on naturopathic oncology for our TND program, we study several doctors who did just that, like Dr. Simoncini and Dr. Hoxsey. In any case, there are now many functional medicine doctors, such as Chris Kresser (chiropractor) and Dr. David Brownstein MD who are successfully working ‘outside the box’. 

Naturopathic Physician Residency

To residency or not to residency, that is the question.

Allopathic (regular/mainstream) doctoral programs are mandated and regulated by conventional medical schools which require postgraduate doctors to have a residency in order to become licensed.

Naturopathic residencies are not required with the exception of Utah. Why is this? Naturopathic residencies are not currently required or funded by federal government. It should also be noted that all naturopaths are trained as generalists.

But for those naturopathic graduates that desire to have a residency, CNME (Council on Naturopathic Medical Education) offers this page as a guide.

In any case, it does not appear that naturopathic physician residencies are as time consuming and ultimately demanding as that of an postgraduate allopathic physician.

What is a Traditional Naturopathic Doctor (TND)

Traditional naturopaths are individuals who have acquired knowledge of herbal medicine (or other therapies, such as aromatherapy, homeopathy, etc.

Their knowledge is often passed down generationally, learned through apprenticeship, or autodidactic (self-learned) through a passion or hobby, while others may have studied an online program of various types and courses.

Remote study/distance learning naturopathic programs often provide a course list of suggested study and corresponding texts, a broad timeline, and upon completion provide an award or certificate. With the award or certificate, students receive a title which depends on the program they choose.

It should be noted that none of these programs are accredited regionally (but some may be accredited by 3rd party organizations), nor are their credits transferable to an accredited naturopathic program, or any college 99% of the time. It does not mean that these online studies are not valuable for the right type of student.

There are many reasons why someone would study traditional naturopathy from a non-accredited distance learning program. Many would be students do not reside in an area close to an accredited program, or they may not be able to afford it or have the time.

Many others have no desire to practice acute care, and prefer to consult with others holistically as a supplement to conventional medical care.  

Please share your compliments below. Why did you choose an accredited naturopathic college or a non-accredited distance learning program? What worked best for you in your situation?

At the time of this writing, November 21st, 2015, 17 states in the US and five Canadian provinces now require licensure of naturopathic doctors/physician, or the right to use ND after your name. Currently, 17 states, five Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia, and the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands all have laws regulating naturopathic doctors (NDs). Please note: This article was updated on April 6th, 2020.

Requirements for Licensure?

  1. graduate from a four-year, accredited residential naturopathic medical school
  2. pass the (NPLEX) in order to receive a license in states where applicable

Here are a few interesting articles: 

How to Practice as Licensed Naturopathic Physician in States That Don’t Offer Licensure

Naturopathic Physicians Pushing for State Licensure

Should Alaska’s Naturopaths Be Allowed to Prescribe Medication?

Natural Doctors Face Skepticism

What Can Traditional Naturopaths Do

Do you agree that the programs, training, and education for licensed naturopathic physicians are equal to and / or surpass that of conventional med school requirements?

Do you think the licensed naturopathic career path is superior to the that of the traditional naturopath and conventional med school? Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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