You’re here. You begin to question whether to choose a naturopathic doctor versus a medical doctor only after first asking yourself: Are you getting the medical care you need?
Maybe you’ve gone to the same medical doctor for decades, and you love them, but… You’re not better yet. Or maybe you’ve been tossed around between multiple specialists, and you still have no answers.
Maybe your friend mentioned her naturopathic doctor, and you can’t help but see how much healthier she is today than before. Or, maybe you’re a little skeptical.
Let’s break it down. Let’s compare the naturopathic doctor vs the conventional medical doctor (also called an allopathic doctor). To make it easier, you can refer to the table below.
Naturopathic Doctor vs. Medical Doctor: The Big Picture
|Naturopathic Doctor (ND)||Allopathic Doctor (or Medical Doctor, MD)|
|Goal of Doctor||Optimal wellness of the whole person||Combat disease|
|Length of Doctor’s Visit||30 minutes to 1 hour||5-15 minutes|
|What the Doctor Treats||All body systems and the underlying causes of imbalance.||One condition at a time.|
|Types of Intervention||Diet and lifestyle changes are the focus, with possible herbal and vitamin supplements. Pharmaceutical prescriptions are last resort.||Pharmaceutical prescriptions. Lifestyle changes might be encouraged, but time constraints prevent any real coaching.|
|Follow-Up Care||Every few weeks or months (or as often as necessary) until balance is restored||Depends on condition but 1-2 times a year for non-emergency conditions is common|
|Education of Doctor||4-year medical school in the biomedical sciences, plus coursework in mental health, botanical medicine, and nutrition||4-year medical school, coursework focused on biomedical sciences|
What are naturopathic vs medical doctors’ visits like?
An allopathic doctor’s visit
You already know what it’s like to visit your conventional medical doctor. You spend approximately 5-15 minutes in your doctor’s presence, and the conversation focuses on one symptom or condition.
Usually after a brief discussion with the doctor, you are likely to receive a prescription for a pharmaceutical medication, referred to another specialist, or scheduled for surgery. The follow-up might occur 1-2 times a year.
A naturopathic doctor’s visit
Seeing a naturopathic doctor feels quite different from the scenario above.
The first thing you might notice is the length of your visit. Naturopathic doctors spend more time with patients. This allows the doctor to listen and ask questions so that they can fully understand your health history, family history, diet and lifestyle. A typical first visit is around 60 minutes, and a follow-up visit can be between 30 and 60 minutes.
During that visit, your doctor will not focus exclusively on the single symptom and condition that brought you to them. For example, if you came in for insomnia, your doctor will want to understand all other aspects of your life, such as how you’re eating, your exercise habits, and even libido. The naturopathic doctor wants to treat all of you, because physical, mental, and emotional health work together.
After creating your individualized health plan, follow-up will vary from person-to-person. However, every 4-8 weeks is common during the initial phase, until a person shows signs of recovery.
In the case of Vytal Health’s naturopathic doctors, all of these visits occur in the comfort of your home, or wherever you find an internet connection.
The goal of your doctor
The allopathic doctor’s goal and treatment method
According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, allopathic can be defined as:
“relating to or being a system of medicine that aims to combat disease by using remedies (such as drugs or surgery) which produce effects that are different from or incompatible with those of the disease being treated” (emphasis added)
The goal of your allopathic medical doctor is to combat disease. That’s very different than a goal of working toward health. It’s not the doctor’s fault: their entire training has been to fight disease. That’s not always bad.
If you have malaria or other life-threatening infectious disease, this is exactly the approach you need in the short-term.
However, your long-term goal should always be total health. Even if your allopathic medical doctor (MD) agrees, they probably have had very little training in how to help promote that for you (unless they train in integrative or functional medicine, like the doctors at VytalHealth).
An allopathic doctor’s primary means of treatment is pharmaceutical medicines or surgery.
The naturopathic doctor’s goal and treatment method
The goal of a naturopathic doctor is to bring your whole body into health. They do this by asking how you got sick in the first place.
Take the example of insomnia.
- A conventional doctor may prescribe a sleep medication. That medication might help you sleep, but it comes with its own side effects, including the possibility of addiction. Of course, using a sleep medication might be needed in certain situations.
- A naturopathic doctor wants to know why you aren’t sleeping well. Insomnia can be caused by an adrenal imbalance, blood sugar issues, stress and anxiety, or a melatonin deficiency, among the possibilities. All of these affect your ability to fall asleep and stay asleep. A naturopathic doctor will work toward a treatment plan that restores balance.
What does restoring balance look like? Certainly, a single prescription won’t suffice. Most sources of disease come from your lifestyle and unique genetic propensities. Your health plan will emphasize dietary and lifestyle recommendations, as well as nutritional and herbal supplements.
You will form a partnership with your naturopathic doctor and your health plan will be individualized for you, since there is no one-size fits all approach to healing.
A caveat: a “naturopath” is not naturopathic doctor (ND)
When we talk about naturopathic doctors, I’m referring to licensed physicians who have a doctorate degree in naturopathic medicine. There is, however, another term that can throw confusion into the mix.
Some people, with various forms of training, will refer to themselves as “naturopaths.” There is no standard definition as to what that means or the training involved. These individuals are not physicians. They may or may not have the skills you need, depending on their training and your condition.
To find a naturopathic doctor, you will need to look for a physician who has a doctorate degree in naturopathic medicine and who has taken science and clinical board exams to obtain their license.
All naturopathic doctors at Vytal Health, including myself, have met this standard.
Step beyond the allopathic system
When you choose a naturopathic doctor, you’re stepping outside the system you’ve known—the one that has given you a medication for every symptom. It can be frightening, but it’s also quite liberating. Suddenly, you have the freedom to contemplate what it would look like to get healthy.
You’re not making a pronouncement against the entire medical system. You’re simply saying that what you need right now isn’t what can be found in a fifteen minute visit at your doctor’s office. And that’s okay.
Of course, as a naturopathic doctor, I often collaborate with allopathic medical doctors. My goal is to get you healthy. Sometimes you need a conventional doctor to treat certain diseases, while I work with you on lifestyle changes to promote holistic health.
If you’re not getting the treatment you need through conventional medicine, that’s when you know it’s time to see your naturopathic doctor.
Want to start your journey with me? Make an appointment.