Pros and Cons of a Naturopathic Physician Career
Working as a naturopathic physician (ND) is unique in that it allows these medical professionals to step outside of conventional medicine and take a traditional, comprehensive approach to healing. Read on to learn more advantages and disadvantages of becoming a naturopathic physician:
|Pros of a Career as a Naturopathic Physician|
|High career satisfaction (in an AANMC survey, 98% of naturopathic physicians reported satisfaction with their careers)**|
|High income potential (some naturopathic physicians may earn more than $200,000)**|
|Bright employment outlook (68% of adults report using at least one form of complementary or alternative therapy)*|
|Broad professional training (in addition to gaining specialized training in their field, naturopathic physicians are also required to learn the medical concepts and techniques of conventional medicine, potentially broadening their career options)*|
|Cons of a Career as a Naturopathic Physician|
|Potentially expensive and rigorous formal education*|
|Low salary potential during early residency income (you may only earn $20,000-$30,000 as a naturopathic early resident)**|
|Relatively low availability of naturopathic medical schools nationwide*|
|Public perception (although the popularity of naturopathic physicians is increasing, there is still the perception that the field is merely an alternative to modern medicine, even though it predates its more contemporary offshoot)*|
Sources: *Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC); **AANMC 2004 member survey.
Job Description and Duties
Naturopathic physicians (NDs) are medical professionals who take a traditional, comprehensive approach to healing. They generally take into account factors that are considered outside of the purview of conventional medicine, such as natural healing, nutrition, ancient therapies and herbal remedies. They share many of the same job functions as their more conventional counterparts though, such as writing prescriptions, recording patient histories, administering health advice and conducting routine health examinations. However, the nature of their prescriptions and treatments are based on more traditional concepts rooted in areas such as homeopathy, Oriental medicine, diathermy and catalytic self-healing.
Job Prospects and Salary Info
According to the most recent information available from the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC), there were approximately 3,500 practicing NDs in the United States as of 2012. This number is expected to increase even more due to the growing popularity of the field of holistic healing.
The salary of NDs tends to vary depending on a host of different factors, such as whether or not the ND is self-employed, the size of the practice and the extent of business. According the most recent AANMC member survey (published in 2004), NDs who are employed with prominent practices earn an average net income between $80,000 and $90,000 a year, with those NDs on the top of the salary scale making more than $200,000 a year.
Career Paths and Specializations
NDs are employed in a variety of different professional settings, including private clinics, pharmacies, insurance companies and other organizations related to health care. Potential occupations include public health administrator, natural products research scientist, industry consultant and wellness educator. Some NDs choose to devote their time to serving low-income communities or working in clinics overseas.
Career Skills and Requirements
Similar to medical doctors (MDs), NDs are required to complete four years of formal medical training from an accredited medical college. In order to gain admission into one of these naturopathic colleges, you'll need to have completed a bachelor's degree with at least three years of pre-medical training in areas such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry and developmental psychology. Once admitted, these programs provide training in areas such as cardiovascular and immune systems, gross human anatomy, immunology, pathology and integrated therapeutics.
After you've completed your formal studies, you'll be required to obtain a state license, unless the state in which you plan to practice does not yet have the requirement. Licensure is typically obtained by completing a professional board exam, though specific requirements vary by state.
NDs are often required to utilize a variety of skills and abilities during the course of their practice. They may need to work a range of tools, such as blood pressure cuffs, faradic simulators and heating pads. In addition, they may need to utilize a variety of accounting, medical, spreadsheet and business software.
You'll need to rely on a number of hard and soft skills to successfully complete your professional tasks. These may include the ability to:
- Communicate to a variety of individuals, such as professional peers, patients and families of patients
- Diagnose subtle problems and dangers with limited information
- Operate a variety of advanced equipment and techniques
Job Postings from Real Employers
A January 2013 search for online job postings produced a variety of listings for naturopathic physicians. There were several employers looking specifically for naturopathic physicians who specialize in oncology. Below are excerpts from several job postings from that January search:
- A cancer treatment hospital in Atlanta, GA, looked for a licensed ND with at least five years of professional clinical experience, in addition to experience in oncology. The successful candidate would perform natural health assessments, maintain patient medical histories and educate patients on the subject of naturopathic medicine.
- A health care system in Columbus, GA, sought a board-certified naturopathic oncologist to join its cancer center program. The successful applicant would be working in an environment that provided a range of conventional treatment options as well, including radiation oncology, outpatient chemotherapy and nutrition services.
- A counseling center in Edmonds, WA, advertised for a licensed ND with specific knowledge of chemical dependency and mental health. The successful applicant would be assisting in the delivery of both intensive outpatient and hospital-based treatment.
How to Stand Out
One effective way to stand out as an ND is to specialize your services. One popular specialty is naturopathic oncology, which applies naturopathic techniques and concepts to the treatment of cancer. You may obtain this credential through the American Board of Naturopathic Oncology (ABNO). Applicants are typically required to have graduated from an accredited naturopathic medical college and obtained a state license. Board certification is granted upon successful completion of an exam.
Other Careers to Consider
If you want a career that's a little closer to mainstream medicine, you may consider becoming a chiropractor. Like NDs, they focus on holistic healing. However, they specialize in treating the musculoskeletal system by manually aligning the spinal column and other joints. In addition, chiropractors may also be required to evaluate postures, offer lifestyle advice and perform physicals.
Like NDs, chiropractors are required to complete postgraduate professional training that typically takes four years to complete. They are also required to obtain a license before practicing. The BLS estimated that employment of chiropractors will increase by 28% from 2010-2020, which is faster than the average growth rate of all other occupations during that period. In 2011, the mean annual wage of chiropractors nationwide was about $79,000, per BLS reports.
If you are looking for a career in alternative medicine that doesn't require as much training, you may want to consider a career as a massage therapist. Massage therapists are, like NDs, alternative health practitioners who focus on holistic healing. However, their job functions are limited to manipulating human muscle and tissue for the purpose of alleviating tension and improving the body's physiological condition.
These professionals are typically required to complete a postsecondary program of at least 500 hours of study and practical experience. In addition, most states require individuals to obtain a license before practicing. The BLS estimated employment of massage therapists would grow by 20% nationwide from 2010-2020. In 2011, the mean annual wage of massage therapists practicing nationwide was about $40,000, per BLS reports.