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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 11, 2010

2 types of doctors differ in training


By Laurie Steelsmith

Q. What's the difference between a naturopathic doctor and a medical doctor? What kind of medicine is each type of doctor best at, and what distinguishes naturopathic medicine from conventional medicine?

A. Both naturopathic doctors and medical doctors are licensed physicians who diagnose and treat disease. The difference between the two begins with their training. Both are required to study the same core medical sciences and diagnostic techniques, but their training diverges sharply when it comes to the study of therapeutics methods of treating disease and restoring health.

Although naturopathic medical students receive training in pharmaceutical drugs, their education focuses mainly on treating and preventing a wide range of conditions with nontoxic, natural therapies such as botanical medicine, nutrition, vitamin therapy, hormone balancing, structural adjustments, homeopathy, lifestyle modification and more. The training of medical doctors, on the other hand, focuses to a much greater extent on acute care and symptom management through the use of pharmaceutical drugs and surgery for a broad variety of health problems.

As a result of this key educational difference, naturopathic doctors generally prescribe therapies and procedures designed to stimulate your body's natural ability to heal itself, whereas medical doctors tend to prescribe pharmaceutical drugs for numerous conditions.

The two approaches reflect different philosophies regarding health and the role of medications in your life. Naturopathic doctors believe drugs should be avoided whenever possible because they can mask your symptoms without treating your underlying problem, and may have harmful side-effects. The naturopathic doctor aims to prescribe the least-toxic, least-invasive means of creating health in your body, and empower you with ways of staying well.

As primary-care physicians, naturopathic doctors are highly trained in preventive care. They excel at helping you identify and treat the underlying causes of conditions like hormone imbalances, immune deficiencies, digestive problems such as irritable bowel syndrome, autoimmune conditions, joint pain, rashes, migraines, body aches, chronic fatigue, vaginitis and many other conditions.

Some medical doctors are primary-care physicians, but most specialize in a particular area. Medical doctors excel in situations that require pharmaceutical or surgical intervention such as if a patient suffers a heart attack, has a broken bone, needs chemotherapy, requires major surgery, needs pharmaceutical pain management or needs a drug to stop a major infection. Medical doctors are invaluable in emergency situations.

Laurie Steelsmith is a naturopathic physician and licensed acupuncturist in Honolulu, as well as author of "Natural Choices for Women's Health." See www.DrSteelsmith.com.