The following scenario happens to me way too often:
Random person: “What do you do?”
Me: “I’m a naturopathic doctor.”
Random person: “Oh so you’re a homeopath?”
…At which point, my brain explodes and I want to hop on my soap box of fury explaining the difference between naturopathy and homeopathy.
I’m not quite sure why when I say “naturopath,” people hear “homeopath.” I would be less offended by being called a homeopath, if people did not associate it with a sage-burning, rain-stick-shaking, quack of a doctor. To clarify, being a naturopathic doctor does NOT equal being a homeopath; and being a homeopath definitely does NOT qualify one to be a naturopathic doctor.
The misconception about naturopathic doctors (NDs) comes from a lack of knowledge. When I started my 4-year graduate program in naturopathic medicine (that was after completing a bachelors degree in psychology and pre-med), I knew basically nothing about homeopathy. Yes, homeopathy was integrated into our naturopathic curriculum, but a minimal amount in comparison to everything we learned. We’re talking 3 classes out of approximately 100. It was literally only 8 credits out of the 300+ credits we were required to take. Whether or not a naturopathic student wants to take their homeopathy training further is up to them. Some do, some don’t.
Frankly, homeopathy is as controversial in the naturopathic world as it is in the real world. I have had some instructors swear by it, and plenty of instructors who hated it. My personal stance on homeopathy is a neutral one. This article is not about discrediting homeopathy, it is about educating people about what a naturopathic medical education entails.
The profession of naturopathic medicine is small enough as it is, and because so much of the general population assumes it is the same thing, to bash homeopathy would probably reflect negatively on the whole field of naturopathy. And to be perfectly honest, I have seen some unexplainable cases where the only thing that worked (after trying many other treatments, both conventional and alternative) was homeopathy. I have also seen it not work plenty of times.
Regardless of whether a naturopathic student decides to pursue homeopathy or not, that student still has to go through hundreds of hours of lecture and training to get a degree in naturopathic medicine. It takes a minimum of 4 years to complete the program, but many need to do it in 5-6 years because the program is THAT demanding. I calculated from my transcripts, a total of 82 credits in basic sciences alone (anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pathology, etc). Then 90ish credits in basic clinical courses (endocrinology, gastroenterology, oncology, gynecology, and all those other –ologies). AND I spent an additional 1000+ hours working on clinical shifts/rotations and preceptorships. We learn how to perform physical exams, draw blood, run labs.…all the same standard procedures your typical primary care physician would do. That’s because we ARE trained to be primary care physicians, and in several states, we can practice as such. We receive a well-rounded and very thorough education.
Back to my earlier point, is that homeopathy played a small role in a very large and challenging education. Just because I took a few classes in homeopathy, I do not consider myself a homeopath. It’s an elaborate modality in itself and would require much more training if I wanted to be a proper homeopath. I mean, I also took a class in minor office procedures and learned how to do sutures (aka stitches) on pigs feet. But have I ever practiced doing sutures on a live person? Nope. And it’s probably in your best interest as well as mine, if I send you to someone else to do those sutures for you. Yes, I have some basic training in it, but it’s better to let the experts do it. My point being, is that if you are wanting to try homeopathy, go to someone who does it a LOT if you want to increase your chances of seeing a result. Don’t just buy a homeopathy remedy off the shelf based on what the label says because it’s probably not going to work.
Every ND finds the treatment modalities they tend to lean more towards. In my own practice, I don’t do much or any homeopathy (sshhh, don’t tell my pro-homeopathy teachers that). What I love to do is biofeedback (to be explained on another day, in another article), because it is highly effective for a variety of conditions and there is loads of scientific research to back it up. However, it’s not the only thing I do. All naturopaths are given a BIG toolbox of treatment options to choose from, but we do understand the importance of having standards of care. Often times, that can involve integrating our naturopathic modalities with conventional methods. A licensed naturopathic doctor from an accredited naturopathic school will NOT try to treat cancer with homeopathy alone. Perhaps as an additional support, but we will be damn sure that cancer patients are being seen by an oncologist (aka the cancer experts), and making sure that anything we might do as supportive care will NOT interfere with the treatments and recommendations of said oncologist.
In regards to health, I can understand why homeopathy appeals to people. They want that “magic pill” that fixes everything. Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Even if homeopathy works for you, it does not mean it will solve all your problems. You have to evaluate how important your health is to you and how willing you are to work towards being healthier. If you want to be healthier, you have to LIVE healthier. That might mean eating a vegetable from time to time, or getting out and exercising. Living healthy is not something that happens overnight; it’s a process, it’s a commitment. Magic pill or no magic pill, what are you willing to do for you?
Dr. Alice Fong