Earlier this month the New Mexico bill to license naturopathic doctors (SB 135) unanimously passed the Senate Public Affairs Committee at the Roundhouse legislative building in Santa Fe. Introduced by the New Mexico Association of Naturopathic Physicians this bill has had support from the New Mexico Medical Board, the Medical Society and Chiropractic Association. With the current shortage of primary care doctors, with increased interest in natural and integrative medicine, licensed naturopathic doctor will be a welcome addition to the medical landscape in New Mexico.
Trained to treat the whole person, naturopathic doctors help prevent, or diagnose and treat acute and chronic illness. With an emphasis on preventive medicine, NDs can help reverse the trend which leaves more than half of all Americans with a chronic disease. Research shows that addressing modifiable risk factors helps prevent type 2 diabetes, heart disease and colon cancer, three of the most common causes of death and health care dollars spent in the United States.
Naturopathic doctors have been at the forefront of the evolution of integrative medicine. In the last thirty years, the profession has grown from one that included just a few hundred practitioners who were licensed in six states, and a single naturopathic medical school. There are now eight naturopathic medical schools recognized by the Federal Department of Education and approximately 6,000 licensed practitioners in 23 U.S. jurisdictions. In the last three years, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island joined the ranks of states that regulate NDs.
Over the past two decades, there has been a paradigm shift in attitudes and further understanding of and acceptance of natural medicine. Naturopathic doctors apply scientific rigor to the evaluation of empirically based nutritional, botanical and other naturopathic treatments. Many naturopathic institutions are recipients of National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding and other grants to advance medical research. Additionally, naturopathic doctors are awarded highly competitive NIH fellowships.
Licensed naturopathic doctors complete a four-year, doctoral level, medical education at an accredited school of the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education, recognized by the United States Department of Education. Naturopathic doctors spend two years studying the same biomedical sciences as medical colleagues as well as advanced training in botanical medicine, clinical nutrition and behavioral medicine. Only naturopathic medical students who graduate from an accredited program are eligible to take the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination, required for licensure. A growing number of naturopathic doctors complete residency programs.
The naturopathic medical profession has a 100-year history of promoting regulation of its own professional practice. In states like Arizona, which has had licensure since 1935, NDs work in a wide variety of settings including in accountable care organizations and community health centers that care for the underserved. NDs are an integral part of the conventional medical landscape in many of the states where licensed.
Naturopathic medicine is safe, effective and evidence-based. Numerous research studies of naturopathic treatments for conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, anxiety and chronic low back pain show naturopathic medicine to be both safe and effective. Few medical treatments are 100% safe, but naturopathic doctors follow the Therapeutic Order, a roadmap for clinical decision-making, emphasizing gentler approaches first.
Naturopathic doctors offer first-line, non-opioid, non-benzodiazepine approaches to the treatment of pain, anxiety, depression and insomnia. Studies show efficacy when nutritional, botanical, and lifestyle medicine are employed for these complaints. Naturopathic medicine is both effective and cost effective for the treatment of chronic back pain. Research underscores the positive impact of mindfulness meditation for insomnia. Internet-based cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven effective for the treatment of depression.
In my own practice, I see a wide range of patients, including physicians and their families. I enjoy collegial and mutual respect across medical professionals. Our referral patterns are similar for both diagnostic and treatment support. I field questions on a daily basis from medical colleagues for everything from referral to an ND, to my opinion about a particular natural medicine approach for a specific diagnosis, to my knowledge about drug/nutrient or drug/herb interactions. Patients are already using natural medicine in New Mexico, but most of our medical doctor colleagues are not strongly educated to field such questions or provide such care.
It is time New Mexico consumers who seek out complementary therapies to be protected from unscrupulous individuals, who can now falsely present themselves as naturopathic doctors. Licensure sets standards for training, education, practice and continuing education. This legislation has been clearly vetted by policy makers in the legislature and by the other stakeholders, including the public. As we move to a system of more integrated health care, New Mexico state licensure of naturopathic physicians will benefit patients and other health practitioners and improve access to health care across the state.
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Knowing about the education, training, scope of practice, and role of naturopathic medicine expands health care options. For more information, these FAQs and this patient gallery from the Institute of Natural Medicine and the AANP offer further resources. To read about licensable naturopathic doctors in New Mexico click here.