Canadian Town Suffering Doctor Shortage Funds Naturopathic Clinic, Inflaming Critics of Alternative Medicine

There aren't enough doctors in the Canadian city of Cornwall in Ontario. While the city needs medical doctors, the city council approved $45,000 in public funding for a naturopathic clinic, according to the National Post.

"If this is really to address a physician shortage, then it is just completely inappropriate and completely ridiculous," said Michelle Cohen, an Ontario family physician.

The clinic will feature seven rooms and plans to hire two naturopathic doctors, a massage therapist, a physiotherapist and potentially a nurse practitioner. Full funding for the clinic will come from reserve monies.

"We have a medical recruitment program, and we are trying to attract more doctors," said city council member Glen Grant.

Controversy about the clinic stems from nomenclature and marketing. Critics of naturopathy say they have no right to refer to themselves as doctors since they are not medically trained.

Former naturopath Britt Hermes said the training naturopaths receive is far different than the kind students in medical school receive.

Naturopathic medical practice takes a natural, holistic approach to healing, according to The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.

"Naturopathic medicine recognizes an inherent self-healing process in people that is ordered and intelligent," says the organization website.

"Naturopathic physicians treat each patient by taking into account individual physical, mental, emotional, genetic, environmental, social, and other factors," the statement continues. "Since total health also includes spiritual health, naturopathic physicians encourage individuals to pursue their personal spiritual development."

naturopathy, alternative medicine
Critics say that some naturopathic doctors are attempting to pass themselves off as medical doctors, while highlighting the difference between the two. Getty

Britt Hermes does not believe this is enough.

"They take classes with the same names as medical school courses," Hermes said. "But pseudoscience and nonsensical information is integrated into every course."

According to Hermes, naturopaths do not have to take medical entry exams or complete any kind of post-graduate training.

Shawn O'Reilly, executive director of the Canadian Association of Naturopathic Doctors, said that while naturopaths are "very definitely not medical doctors," they receive "very similar training."

Timothy Caulfield, a health policy expert from the University of Alberta, disagrees.

"The messaging is, one, 'We are science-based, we're medically trained, we are health care professionals,'" said Caulfield. "The second is, 'Yeah, but we're different. We're based on natural medicine, we're about getting to the root causes.'"

According to a study published by Caulfield and his colleagues, naturopathic doctors play a role in the anti-vaccination movement.

"While not all CAM [complementary and alternative medicine] practitioners are overtly anti-vaccination," the study said, "there is an association between CAM use and not vaccinating children. In addition, studies have found that training in CAM is associated with increased anti-vaccination attitudes, and a 2004 study of Canadian Naturopathic students found that only 12.8 percent would advise full vaccination."

Dr. Cohen worries that the public does not fully understand the difference between an ND [naturopathic doctor] and an MD [medical doctor].

"They're not doing the same kind of screening tests we do," Cohen said, "they don't do preventative medicine the way we do and they don't manage the same kinds of complex and chronic medical issues family doctors do. There is really no comparison."

Canadian Town Suffering Doctor Shortage Funds Naturopathic Clinic, Inflaming Critics of Alternative Medicine | Health