So, You’re Thinking About Becoming a Naturopathic Doctor: a comprehensive guide

When I was in the process of choosing and applying to naturopathic medical school, I found that there were very few resources available to help give me guidance, advice, and general tips and tricks. Therefore, due to the limited resources – and the fact that some of my readers have already reached out to me saying that they want to apply – I have decided to put together a comprehensive guide to choosing and applying to naturopathic medical school.

Naturopathic Doctor vs. Naturopath

First and foremost, there is a difference between becoming a naturopathic doctor and becoming a naturopath.

According to the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, “a licensed ND is a primary care practitioner who is trained to diagnose, prevent, and treat acute and chronic illness and in some provinces, prescribe medication. By law, a naturopath is unable to provide a diagnosis or prescribe medication” [1].

In Canada and the United States, to become a naturopathic doctor you must first finish a Bachelor’s degree, then move onto completing a 4-year professional doctoral program accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME). Completing a doctoral program by an accredited school is needed in order to be eligible to write the North American standardized board exams (NPLEX), allowing you to practice as a fully qualified “Doctor of Naturopathy”; with an “ND” designation.

In contrast, a naturopath can be educated by a program that’s not accredited (can be online or in-person), which can vary from a few months to a few years to complete. There is no standardized curriculum nor supervised clinical experience; and such, are not eligible for writing the NPLEX. This means that they cannot operate with the “ND” designation and are not considered a regulated primary care practitioner.

Therefore, if you want to be a naturopathic doctor, rather than a naturopath, it is imperative that you choose to apply to an accredited naturopathic medical school. Here is a list of the 7 accredited schools in North America:

1. Bastyr University (San Diego, California)

2. Bastyr University (Seattle, Washington)

3. Boucher Institute of Naturopathic Medicine (Vancouver, British Columbia)

4. Canadian College of Naturopathic Medicine (Toronto, Ontario)

5. National University of Health Sciences (Chicago, Illinois)

6. National University of Natural Medicine (Portland, Oregon)

7. Southwest College of Naturopathic Medicine & Health Sciences (Phoenix, Arizona)

Difference Between Naturopathic Medical School and Medical School

I just quickly want to point out that a naturopathic doctor (ND) is also vastly different from a medical doctor (MD). Although both programs are four years, include supervised clinical experience, and require passing board exams to become licensed; the curriculum is quite distinct. Although both require similar basic science knowledge, medical school is meant to prepare you for practicing Western medicine, whereas naturopathic medical school focuses more on nutrition, holistic therapies (massage, acupuncture, hydrotherapy, physical manipulation), psychotherapy, and sexual health and fertility. Thus, I want to make it clear that becoming a naturopathic doctor is not the same as becoming a medical doctor so, do some research in order to decide which model of care best resonates with your interests and beliefs.

Are You Ready to Apply?

When I decided to apply to naturopathic medical school, I was in my fourth year of university. Previous to this, I wanted to apply to traditional medical school, so I had quite a bit of experience working in a doctor’s office, working in labs, shadowing doctors; and volunteering in hospitals and for health-care-related charities. However, I had never had any experience working or volunteering for a naturopath, or even visiting one. In my fourth year, I came to the realization that the naturopathic medicine principles resonated way more with me than those of traditional medicine; and I decided to start getting more familiar with the field of naturopathy.

Before I started my application, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be accepted due to my lack of experience in the field of naturopathic medicine, but the admissions department for CCNM mentioned that healthcare experience is an asset, but it does not have to be specifically related to naturopathic medicine. However, in order to know that you really want to proceed down this path, you should get a good idea about the bread and butter of the profession. Because of COVID-19, I was not able to volunteer or work in a naturopathic doctor’s office, however, I made it a point to see a naturopath for a few appointments; as well as reach out to naturopaths in my area to talk to them about their work. I also attended the CCNM info session, listened to podcasts about naturopathic medicine by naturopathic doctors; and, in part, started this blog in order to learn more about the field.

Not only did taking these steps show that I’m passionate and committed to the profession on my application, but these experiences also gave me a good idea of what I was getting myself into. I think it’s quite difficult to articulate why you want to be a naturopathic doctor in your application if you have never had an appointment with or talked to a naturopathic doctor. Online research is definitely a useful start but talking to people and immersing yourself in the field is what really enables you to acquire that knowledge and experience that you can’t get through a computer.

The Application Process

Now that you’re ready to apply, there are two parts to applying to naturopathic medical school: the written application and the interview. The written application will be administered through the individual school or through a portal called NDCAS (if you’re applying to CCNM or SCNM). Because I only applied to CCNM, I will be primarily referencing my experience with NDCAS, but from my research, the application process for the other naturopathic medical schools are quite similar.

List of things that need to be included in the application:

Personal Information

Academic History

1. A copy of your official transcript (requested and mailed by your university)

2. Transcript entry (you manually enter all your classes and grades from university – this will be verified against your official transcript when delivered)

3. Scores from any standardized tests you have taken (IELTS or TOEFL)

Supporting Information

1. Minimum 3 letters of reference (1 from an academic setting, 1 from a regulated healthcare professional, and 1 from the above categories or a supervisor/previous employer)

2. List of experiences

3. Achievements (scholarships and awards)

4. Licenses and Certifications (CPR is required before starting, so I recommend you do that before applying if you can – not mandatory for applying though)

5. CV/ resume

Program Materials (provided by the school)

For CCNM in the 2020 application cycle, it was a 5,000 character personal statement asking: 1) Why do you want to become a naturopathic doctor?

2) What is the role of naturopathic medicine/ naturopathic doctors in the healthcare system? 3) How do you see the naturopathic profession evolving?

4) Discuss any life experiences that have helped you prepare for the rigorous academic demands and individual challenges associated with this program of study.

Some quick notes: for my three letters of reference, I had included 1 professor and 2 work/volunteer supervisors. Although I had a significant amount of healthcare experience before applying, I worked a lot closer with medical school students rather than the actual physician, therefore having a reference from a medical school student that was my supervisor ended up being significantly stronger than from the physician that didn’t work with me as closely. Technically, medical school students do not count as healthcare professionals (yet), so don’t freak out if you haven’t worked closely with a medical professional – it will not negatively your chances of being admitted. Also, it’s recommended that your reference has known you for 2 years, with 1 year being the minimum. One of my references knew me for one year; and the other two have known me for two.


NDCAS Application Interface

The Interview

For CCNM, the GPA cut-off was a 2.7, with an average acceptance rate of 3.3. If your GPA is above this cut-off, you are called in to have an interview. The interview and your GPA make up the bulk of the admission decision, at least for CCNM. I was called invited for an interview the day after I submitted my application. The interview was conducted via Zoom (due to COVID-19); and consists of one naturopathic doctor and one 4th year naturopathic med student. The first part of the interview asks general questions, including:

1. Why are you applying to CCNM?

2. What changes would you make to the current healthcare system?

3. How did you find/choose the field of naturopathic medicine?

4. Follow up questions based on your answers.

Next, they asked situational questions including:

1. If you were stuck in an elevator with someone who appeared distressed what would you do?

2. In that situation, what is your duty to yourself and the other person?

3. If you were treating a patient who later ended up in acute care in the emergency what would you do?

4. If the reason they ended up in acute care was due to your error what would you do?

5. how would you deal with this situation with the patient after the fact?

6. If you were a manager at a store and saw a customer very angrily shouting that they want to speak to the manager, what would you do?

These situational questions definitely took up the bulk of the interview.

Lastly, was an opportunity for questions and open dialogue. I highly recommend asking questions because not only does it show interest to the interviewer, but it’s also a great opportunity to ask questions about the school that you couldn’t find online. Personally, I asked about what student support resources are on campus, how course material delivery would be affected by COVID-19, what research opportunities are available to students; and what’s the community and class dynamic like at the school. I could tell the interviewer liked my question about the class dynamic because she went on and on about how everyone in the class is like a family and there’s an amazing sense of community at the school – which I was super pleased to hear.

The interview lasts around 45 minutes in total. After the interview, I was told that I would hear back within 2 weeks about the status of my application. I received my acceptance approximately 5 days after my interview.

My overall tips for preparing for the interview are to:

1) Look-up information about the school you’re applying to, to see what it is that they value in an applicant, and gear your answers to highlight those skills/values

2) Pre-formulate some questions that you want to ask at the end (in case you blank in the moment)

3) Reflect on why you want to be a naturopathic doctor and specifically why you want to apply to that particular school

4) Dress in business attire (suit for boys, a nice dress shirt or sweater for girls)

5) Don’t be afraid to re-state things you said in your application, as for CCNM the interviewers have not seen your application yet

6) Find ways to de-stress before the interview (I was very nervous at the start and it clearly showed in my first couple of answers)

Final Thoughts

Overall, once you choose a school, the application process is quite lengthy, so I would start about a month in advance. Also, CCNM had rolling admissions, so I would highly recommend starting as soon as possible. Your references need time to write letters and it takes up to about 3 weeks for your transcript to be delivered. I started my application in September and had it submitted by the beginning of October (the due date was November 15th).