Instead of going to medical school as medical doctors (MDs) do, naturopathic doctors (NDs) must complete a four-year postgraduate program at one of two accredited schools in Canada: The Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto or the Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine in New Westminster, B.C. Graduates from any of four U.S. naturopathic schools can also practise in Canada, once they’ve passed Canadian licensing exams.
In contrast, becoming a medical doctor requires a four-year postgraduate medical degree and a minimum of two years of residency training for family medicine (at least four years for a specialty). Because medical doctors have more access to medical specialists, as well as diagnostic tools such as MRI machines, naturopaths refer patients who need medical attention to a physician.
NDs are similar to MDs in that they conduct physical exams, order lab tests and provide some diagnoses. Zeynep Uraz, an ND with the Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine in Toronto, feels that the naturopathic approach is more preventive and holistic. NDs usually spend an hour or more with a patient, she says, getting to know the various things that affect their health, such as stress, lifestyle and diet.
Naturopaths rely on natural therapies, including herbs and other botanicals, traditional Chinese medicine (including acupuncture), homeopathy (using minute doses of natural remedies to fight disease), hydrotherapy (using water’sitz baths, footbaths, steam inhalation, body wraps and the like’to restore health), and food used as medicine.
What the medical community says
There’s very little evidence supporting many naturopathic techniques. And when it comes to homeopathy, scientists have debunked it, says Dr. Lloyd Oppel, vice-chair of the British Columbia Medical Association Council on Health Promotion, who helped draft the Canadian Medical Association’s policy on complementary and alternative medicine. ‘People may point to one study that supports it, whereas the bulk of the best evidence will be contrary to it,’ he says. The CMA worries that people are at risk of spending money, being misdiagnosed or misinformed about their health, or given a treatment that may even be harmful, Oppel adds.
Finding an ND
Currently, naturopathic doctors are regulated only in British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario. (Regulated NDs conform to standards, have an issued licence, stay current and are subject to complaints through the regulating body.) You can search for an ND in your province or city through the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors.
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