What is Naturopathic Medicine?

Naturopathic medicine is a philosophy of medical that embraces conventional and alternative medicine. Doctors who practice naturopathic medicine seek to restore health and promote wellness in their patients using some of the safest, most effective, and least invasive therapies available.

Naturopathic Doctors (NDs), also referred to as Naturopathic Medical Doctors (NMD), offer a unique blend of training in conventional medicine and natural therapeutics.

NDs attend federally-accredited four year post-graduate level medical schools and are trained in the same medical sciences as Medical Doctors (MDs).

These medical sciences include pharmaceuticals, imaging, laboratory diagnostics, minor surgery, and other medical procedures commonly completed by family doctors. In addition to this training, Naturopathic Doctors are trained in herbal medicine, nutrition, counseling, homeopathy, physical medicine, physiotherapy, and hydrotherapy.

Click here to view a document comparing the curriculum of conventional MD medical school with naturopathic ND medical school

The licensure of Naturopathic Doctors varies by state. Each state regulates the scope of Naturopathic Doctors. For instance, in California ND’s are not licensed to perform minor surgery or prescribe all types of pharmaceuticals. Wisconsin just passed licensure for Naturopathic Doctors in January 2022, prior to this date NDs could not practice to the full extent of their training in the state of Wisconsin. 

In California, most prescriptions may be written under a supervising MD or DO; Dr. Norris has this privilege. She cannot write prescriptions for controlled substances such as opoid pain medications and ADHD medication. In Wisconsin, neither Dr. Norris or Dr. Birdsall can prescribe pharmaceuticals. 

These laws are subject to change, and the California Naturopathic Doctor’s Association and the Wisconsin Naturopathic Doctor’s Association are working hard to make changes to our regulations. For more information on other states refer to the American Association of Naturopathic Physician’s website.

Dr. Sara Norris, ND (pictured here) practices with a Naturopathic Medicine Philosophy

Common conditions treated by
Naturopathic Doctors:

Patients seek Naturopathic medicine for many reasons. Some of the most common reasons include poor outcomes with pharmaceutical treatments, wanting to spend more time with their doctor, looking for a provider that treats their patients holistically, and seeking a doctor trained in alternative therapies.

We set aside 60 minutes to spend with each of our patients during the first visit, which is much more comprehensive than many other clinics are able to offer. This is central to the care that we provide at the Norris Center for Integrative Medicine.

Here is a partial list of conditions commonly and effectively treated with Naturopathic medicine:

  • Fatigue: acute & chronic
  • Allergies
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Thyroid disorders
  • Integrative Oncology
  • Fertility problems
  • Insomnia
  • Hormonal balancing: including bioidentical hormones and testosterone
  • Women’s health: PMS, PCOS, heavy periods, irregular periods, dyspareunia, endometriosis, amenorrhea.
  • Skin conditions: eczema, acne, psoriasis, etc
  • Digestive disorders: IBS, chronic constipation, GERD, SIBO
  • Depression & anxiety

A little bit of history on the Naturopathic Medicine philosophy.

Naturopathic medicine first took form in the United States in 1901 when Benedict Lust opened the American School of Naturopathy.  This education centered around vis medicatrix naturae, the healing power of nature, and sought to bring the body to a state of health by promoting vitality in the patient.

Unlike other modalities of medicine, naturopathy insisted that disease could be managed through changing habits such as poor diet, hygiene and lack of adequate exercise (among others).  Practitioners believed that in addition to healing the body, total health required mental and spiritual health as well.

In 1910, the framework of medical education changed due to a medical report commissioned by the Carnegie Foundation. This report, later referred to as the Flexner report was used as a means to improve, and standardize, the medical education in North America.

Ultimately, those medical programs which ranked highest based on the report’s standards, including the new emphasis on pharmaceutical technology in the United States, then received substantial funding from the foundation. After this report, over half of the medical schools open in the US and Canada were either slowly phased out or forced to shut down, including all of the naturopathic medical schools.

This was all happening during a time of significant scientific medical advancements, such as pharmaceuticals, vaccinations, and sterile surgery techniques. This was the turning point where the United States medical schools stopped teaching about herbal medicine and switched away from a holistic, patient-centered approach.

A couple decades after the Flexner report, naturopathic medicine embraced the medical advances and new naturopathic medical schools were formed that would include education corresponding to the scientific rigor now being taught in all medical programs.

Today, Naturopathic Doctors are considered primary care providers in many states including California and Wisconsin, and continue to provide the important link between natural medicine and conventional knowledge.

It is important to note that two types of naturopathic education exist; please see the difference between a Naturopath and Naturopathic Doctor (under FAQs page) for more information. Naturopaths are not trained in medical schools like Naturopathic Doctors are.

Dr Sara Norris, ND on a telehealth appointment

Dr. Sara Norris is a Naturopathic Doctor serving California & Wisconsin residents (see our FAQs page for a list of all states we can see patients in) specializing in women’s health, hormones, skin, digestive health, and pediatrics. Dr. Norris offers in person visits at her Wisconsin based practice, and telemedicine for residents of other states.