There has been much confusion as to the differences/similarities between various primary healthcare providers. In the United States, allopathic (MD), osteopathic (DO) and naturopathic (ND) physicians are licensed to provide primary care medical services. Each profession has a rich history, and distinguishing philosophical characteristics.
All three types of medical schools require 4 years of medical education to complete there respective degrees. Instruction includes preclinical and clinical phases. Perhaps the most historically philosophical difference was concerning the use of drugs, and therefore the number of hours of instruction in pharmacology. The number of hours of instruction currently is similar in all three types of school. Emphasis is placed on musculoskeletal manipulation in osteopathic and naturopathic medicine, and these professions pride themselves in their “holistic” approach to health care. This orientation to healthcare in these schools require hours of naturopathic philosophy, and osteopathic principles and practices including manipulative therapy, in the first two years of school respectively.
All three types of medical schools rely on mostly PH.D’s to deliver the basic science instruction. As the training progresses to more applied medical subjects the involvement of faculty with clinical degrees increases. Because of the philosophical differences of the three medical professions, there has been a tendency to rely on members of the same professions for clinically related instructions. Allopathic schools use M.D.s, osteopathic schools use D.O.s, and naturopathic schools use N.D.s for the majority of clinical instruction.
It is in the clinical instruction that naturopathic medicine education departs most significantly from the common path of medical education. Clinical instruction relies most exclusively on outpatient clinics and classroom/laboratory demonstrations under the supervision of licensed N.D.s. It typically contains little or no inpatient exposure. The most significant departure from the common path of clinical instruction is exposure to alternative and complementary medical modalities. This includes training in herbal medicine, nutritional medicine, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, massage, mind-body medicine, and natural childbirth.
The large and growing public demand for alternative and complementary medicine has prompted some allopathic medical schools to introduce such modalities into their clinical instruction. Such integrated clinical education settings are expected to strengthen the common paths of clinical instruction.
The philosophies and practices of allopathic, osteopathic and naturopathic physicians cause each to be distinguishable from the others. I believe it is the common characteristics and the differences that contribute to the high quality of medical care available in the United States. We are able to experience the best of each type of medical modality, and experience an integrative medical approach to meet our health care needs.