Frequently Asked Questions
What is naturopathic medicine?
Naturopathic medicine is a distinct primary health care profession that emphasizes prevention, treatment, and optimal health through the use of therapeutic methods and substances that encourage an individual’s inherent self-healing process. The practice of naturopathic medicine includes modern and traditional, scientific, and empirical methods.
What is a naturopathic doctor/physician?
Naturopathic physicians combine the wisdom of nature with the rigors of modern science.
Steeped in traditional healing methods, principles, and practices, naturopathic medicine focuses on holistic, proactive prevention and comprehensive diagnosis and treatment. By using protocols that minimize the risk of harm, naturopathic physicians help facilitate the body’s inherent ability to restore and maintain optimal health.
It is the naturopathic physician’s role to work in partnership with a patient to identify and remove barriers to good health by striving to create a healing environment – both internal and external.
In Washington State, naturopathic physicians are fully licensed by the Department of Health as primary care providers (PCPs), are covered by most insurance carriers, and have prescription rights similar to their conventionally trained colleagues.
What kind of training does a naturopathic physician have?
In states (including Washington State) that license or otherwise regulate naturopathic medicine, a naturopathic physician (ND) must successfully complete a four-year, residential, graduate-level naturopathic medical program at a fully accredited naturopathic medical school. This academic program includes rigorous training in all of the same basic and clinical sciences that are taught in a conventional medical program, but it also includes training in holistic and nontoxic approaches to therapy with a strong emphasis on disease prevention and optimizing wellness.
Some examples of coursework above and beyond the standard medical curriculum that naturopathic physicians have to take include:
- clinical nutrition
- herbal/botanical medicine
- nutrient therapy
- exercise science
- physical medicine
- homeopathic medicine
In order to be licensed to practice medicine in Washington State, a naturopathic physician must also complete two sets of professional board exams. These exams – called the Naturopathic Physicians’ Licensing Examination (NPLEX) – are administered by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners (NABNE) and are traditionally completed at two separate times:
- The first set of exams emphasizes basic sciences and is traditionally completed after the first two years in the medical program.
- The second set of exams emphasizes clinical sciences and is completed after successful graduation from an accredited naturopathic medical school.
It is only after successful completion of both sets of professional board exams that a naturopathic physician can be licensed by a state or jurisdiction as a primary care general practice physician. Once licensed, naturopathic physicians must fulfill annual, state‐mandated continuing education requirements.
Do naturopathic physicians complete a residency or internship as part of their training?
Residencies are a required part of a conventional medical school program, but not for a naturopathic medical school program.
Conventional residencies are fully subsidized by the federal government; therefore, there are enough residencies for every graduate of a conventional medical program. Naturopathic residences are not subsidized by the government; therefore, there are relatively few private naturopathic clinics that can afford to support a resident out of its own budget.
Because there are only a small number of residencies available to naturopathic medical school graduates, they are not currently a required piece of a naturopathic physician’s training. However, naturopathic medical students spend the majority of their final two years in a clinical, out-patient, family-practice setting performing hands-on patient care. In other words, many aspects of a traditional residency program are already built into the naturopathic medical training program.
Dr. Angela Ross elected not to apply for a residency position after graduation, opting instead to open Lifespan Naturopathic Medicine on her own. She has many mentors in the naturopathic community that she consults with as needed.
What is the difference between a naturopathic doctor (ND) and an allopathic medical doctor (MD) or doctor of osteopathy (DO)?
There are several key differences between NDs and MDs/DOs. While there are practitioners of all degrees who are exceptions, in general, NDs will spend more time face to face with patients than MDs or DOs. Dr. Angela Ross does not have a nursing staff or other clinical assistants. Therefore, the entire duration of a visit is spent face to face with her. Dr. Ross believes there is tremendous therapeutic value in the patient-practitioner relationship and therefore spends a lot of time fostering this relationship and building trust.
There also tends to be a difference in how symptoms are viewed. Conventional medicine generally views symptoms as annoyances that need to be eliminated. While the ultimate goal of naturopathic medicine is the same, the approach is slightly different.
A naturopathic physician understands symptoms as the body’s way of communicating that there is an imbalance somewhere. The goal of treatment is not simply to eliminate the symptom; it is to address and correct the underlying imbalance that is causing the body to express the symptom in the first place.
Treatment protocols are a third way that naturopathic medicine tends to differ from conventional medicine. While conventional physicians tend to be trained primarily in pharmaceuticals or surgery to eliminate symptoms, naturopathic physicians have many more treatment options in their proverbial medicine bags. For example:
- A naturopathic physician will ask about and make recommendations on diet and lifestyle factors.
- S/he has vast knowledge of botanical and nutrient therapies that can sometimes address imbalances without as many or as harsh side effects as pharmaceuticals.
- S/he can engage in counseling or various body-work or physical medicine modalities to try to open the mind-body connection and address root causes.
Naturopathic physicians are also trained in appropriate use of pharmaceuticals – as well as in pharmaceutical/supplement interactions – and can prescribe medications or provide surgical referrals as needed.
Does Lifespan Naturopathic Medicine take insurance?
Dr. Angela Ross is considered an in-network primary care provider (PCP) with the following health insurance plans: Premera Blue Cross, Regence BlueShield (to include BridgeSpan), LifeWise Health Plan of Washington, and First Choice Health Network. (Note that Medicare does not currently provide coverage of naturopathic medicine.)
At this time, Dr. Angela has decided not to pursue credentialing with the remaining health insurance carriers due to extremely low reimbursement rates for naturopathic physicians and general low quality of customer service (to both clients and providers) from many of these plans.
Dr. Ross is happy to provide the paperwork necessary for anyone to submit an out-of-network claim to her/his health insurance carrier. (Please note that it is the responsibility of each patient to verify her/his plan benefits prior to scheduling an appointment.)
Dr. Angela is also working on developing a membership or subscription-type fee structure for those patients who cannot use their insurance to cover naturopathic medical care with Lifespan Naturopathic Medicine. Stay tuned for more details!
Does Dr. Angela Ross have a specialty?
Dr. Angela Ross is very passionate about providing high quality naturopathic primary care medicine. The saying goes that “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” and Dr. Angela believes that naturopathic physicians are uniquely qualified to provide effective preventive medicine, as well as movement toward cure in cases where disease has manifested.
While Dr. Ross has always been interested in the field of neurology (to include neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases), she does not necessarily have any special training in that field. She is open to her patients guiding her future continuing education endeavors and she may one day declare herself a “specialist” in a particular field. Or she may continue to thrive on the daily challenges and excitement that primary care medicine provides.[A note on naturopathic “specialization”: unlike in conventional medicine, there is not a formal route to specialization in the naturopathic community, with a few key exceptions. At present, naturopathic physicians can obtain advanced training in integrative oncology to become board certified in that field. Those naturopaths are designated with the letters “FABNO” (which indicate that person is a “Fellow of the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology”). There is also an option to become board certified in homeopathy, which is designated by the letters “DHANP” (which indicate that person is a “Diplomate of the Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians”). Although there has been some movement to provide additional testing and board certification in both naturopathic primary care and naturopathic pediatrics, those do not yet exist. Therefore, when a naturopathic physician indicates that s/he “specializes” in a field (other than oncology or homeopathy), it simply means that s/he has a special interest in that field, or that s/he has had success with patients in that field, or that s/he has pursued additional training outside of school in that field. It does not necessarily mean that s/he went through a formal process to be a “specialist.”]