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The Differences Between NDs and MDs

People who see a naturopathic doctor (ND) will be treated by a very well trained doctor that has a deep insight into how to best help a patient heal and build upon their health.

ND and MD Comparisons

In Colorado, NDs can order labs and refer to MD specialists or other healthcare providers as needed. However, NDs can also order a number of other tests and analyses that are not typically performed by conventional doctors, which can often help uncover why a person isn’t well.

Naturopathic Doctors and Medical Doctors (MDs) are both valuable in the field of medicine. Naturopathic doctors are general practitioners similar to a Family Practice doctor, and refer to specialists when necessary to ensure their patients are diagnosed and treated effectively and safely. When both fields of medicine work together, this can be an ideal situation for many patients.

MDs are excellent at trauma, diagnostic medicine, surgery and acute health care. However, their care of chronic conditions is oftentimes to suppress symptoms with drugs or surgery.  While this can lead to an improved quality of life for the patient, it doesn’t typically lead to true health and healing. Prescription drugs have their limitations and can cause many side effects, some of which may be very serious.

NDs are trained as general practitioners. They can treat acute illnesses like colds, coughs, stomach bugs and flu. With chronic health conditions, they work to uncover the obstacles that prevent true health, and then prescribe treatments that assist the body in regaining health.

Education: Similarities

Prior to attending medical school, NDs must have a bachelor’s degree and have taken all prerequisite pre-med courses, similar to that of medical (MD) and osteopathic doctors (DO).

The educational process for NDs and MDs is very similar. Both types of medical school (ND and MD) are accredited by the Federal government. The first 2 years of school are very similar, with a focus on the basic and clinical sciences such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, pharmacology, lab diagnosis and others. The latter 2 years are focused on clinical training in both a clinical and didactic setting.

Students learn how to perform a comprehensive patient intake with physical exam, asses the patient, order lab work, make a diagnosis, create a treatment plan and then monitor the patient at follow ups.

The total hours of education received by Naturopathic and Medical students is comparable, with ND schools having more hours in some areas and vice versa in comparison to MD school.

A more in-depth comparison can be found here.

Education: Differences

NDs are trained in a variety of natural therapeutics, standard Western care and pharmacology.  As a result of this training, NDs are licensed to prescribe medications in many states. (NDs do not have prescriptive authority in the State of Colorado at this time.)

In Colorado, if an ND determines that a prescription medication is necessary as part of a patient’s proper care; they will refer this patient to a medical doctor. However, the reality is that in many instances, NDs are able to treat most health conditions using natural therapeutics and educate the patient in the proper care that boost’s the body’s capacity to heal.  

This philosophical difference is a primary focus during the last 2 years of naturopathic medical education. The natural therapies focused upon during this time include Clinical Nutrition, Botanical Medicine, Naturopathic Physical Medicine, Lifestyle Counseling, and Acupuncture.

Unlike MD students who see hospital-based patients during their rotations, ND students see patients in primarily out-patient clinical settings at naturopathic clinics, and they also have the opportunity to complete rotations with medical specialties in cardiology, pediatrics, pulmonology, internal medicine, obstetrics and many others.

Licensing Examinations

Naturopathic Doctors are required to graduate from an accredited 4-year Naturopathic Medical School. Graduates must pass a licensing examination called the NPLEX (Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination) in order to be licensed as a primary care physician. Similar to MDs, this test is a rigorous several days long examination process.


After licensure, MDs must complete a residency in their chosen specialty. NDs do not have a residency requirement, however opportunities for ND residencies continue to become available.  Dr. Barker completed a rare 2-year family practice residency in Portland, Oregon.

Continuing Medical Education (CME)

NDs and MDs must continue their medical education beyond graduation in order to maintain licensure.  CME requirements vary from state to state. NDs are required to complete yearly continuing medical education courses covering medicine, pharmacology and ethics.


NDs are licensed doctors in the State of Colorado, and in many other states. The scope of practice differs from state to state. Dr. Barker maintains a naturopathic medical license in Colorado and Oregon while Dr. German maintains a naturopathic medical license in Colorado and California. 

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