It is not a typical opener for an article in Whole Living to encourage you to take action. I’m doing it now because naturopathic doctors (NDs) in New York State are restricted from applying their full range of skills until the legislature passes a bill that licenses their profession. A few months ago, such a bill was blocked from moving ahead by the Higher Education Committee, whose chair, Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, cited concerns put forth by the Medical Society (an organization of medical doctors), which sent five representatives to the committee meeting to oppose the bill.
Licensure would allow health care consumers to choose an ND as a primary care doctor. That’s possible in 16 states that already have passed licensing bills (and in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands), including our regional neighbors Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont. Many of New York State’s NDs are licensed in one or more state already, but they are restricted from prescribing pharmaceuticals or ordering standard diagnostic procedures—not even a simple blood test—though they are trained to do so. They must collaborate with an MD, an osteopathic doctor (DO), a nurse practitioner, or a physician’s assistant to get those things for their patients.
“We’ve been working on this for 10 years,” says Donielle Wilson, president of the New York Association of Naturopathic Physicians. “We’ve had our own lobbyists in Albany, co-sponsors in the senate, and a lot of support, including the majority on the Higher Education Committee. What happens, though, is that the Medical Society comes in and scares everyone, bringing up things that aren’t even in the bill, because medical doctors don’t want any profession to do anything close to what they do. If the legislators would research it themselves, they would see that naturopathic doctors are a group of highly trained professionals and that the profession is well established nationally. There is a shortage of health care providers in New York, and over a hundred naturopaths are ready to provide that care.”
Not all MDs are against sharing the doctoring pie with NDs. Indeed, some medical doctors align with NDs very successfully to offer integrative medicine, and some MDs advocate licensing naturopaths. (For example, Andrew Weil, MD: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6h8OxUb6afU).
I urge you to read on about naturopathic doctors. If you wish you had access to an ND’s full expertise, write or call your legislators and the Higher Education Committee and tell them you support licensure. (Contact information is at the end of this article.)
What Is a Naturopathic Doctor?
Just as MDs and DOs do, naturopathic doctors take four or five years of graduate-level classes in medical sciences, pharmacology, and clinical practice. They learn how to perform minor surgeries, prescribe drugs, and carry out or order diagnostic procedures. NDs study at an accredited Naturopathic School of Medicine (there are five in the country), some of which have hospital-based training. But NDs also study topics not included in conventional medical training: exercise physiology, physical medicine and rehabilitation, medical herbalism, nutrition, homeopathy, counseling/mediation, and whole-person medicine, which focuses on treating an individual as a multifaceted being.
NDs are the only health care providers trained in the interactions among pharmaceuticals, herbs, and nutrition. In addition to their ND degree, naturopathic doctors often add specialized training in another modality, such as acupuncture or oriental medicine, and they take continuing education coursework to keep abreast of new developments in medicine, including in pharmacology.
Because of their training, NDs can draw on a number of diverse modalities to restore health; these include dietary changes, Chinese herbs, acupuncture, massage, exercise, psychotherapy, and pharmaceuticals, where appropriate. NDs also refer patients to specialists as needed.
“It’s natural that we would work with a team approach,” says Ileana Tecchio, an ND in Kingston. “I work with a group of practitioners who are interested in alternative medicine—an energy healer, a massage therapist, a breast surgeon—a group of 15 of us has been meeting for about a year as an integrative medicine network. A patient can see any of us in the network for a discount rate. It’s to the benefit of the patient to have several practitioners working for them.”
Nautropaths work from the following set of foundational principles:
The Healing Power of Nature. The body has an inherent ability to heal itself, and seeks a healthy equilibrium; a naturopathic physician guides patients toward reestablishing health by addressing multiple factors that may be out of balance.