History of Naturopathic Medicine

The roots of naturopathic medicine go back thousands of years, drawing on the healing wisdom of many cultures including Indian (Ayurvedic), Chinese (Taoist), Greek (Hippocratic), Arabian, Egyptian, and European (monastic medicine) traditions. With the age of scientific inquiry, medicine took on exciting dimensions and developed new tools for fighting disease. In fact, many older time-tested healing and health maintenance methods were discarded at a rapid rate as doctors began treating disease almost solely with surgery and drugs. Some practitioners in Europe and America, however, perceived that valuable, empirically proven natural therapies were being lost, and struggled to retain the practice of promoting health through stimulation of the vital force and the rational use of natural agents.

As a distinct American health care profession, naturopathic medicine is 100 years old, tracing its origins to Dr. Benedict Lust. Dr. Lust came to the United States from Germany to practice and teach the hydrotherapy techniques popularized by Sebastian Kneipp in Europe.

A committee of Kneipp practitioners met in 1900 and determined that the practice should be expanded to incorporate all natural methods of healing, including botanical medicines, nutritional therapy, physiotherapy, psychology (mind–body connection), homeopathy and the manipulative therapies. They called their profession “Naturopathy.” The first school of naturopathy was founded by Dr. Lust in New York City and graduated its first class in 1902.

Naturopathic medical conventions in the 1920s attracted more than 10,000 naturopathic physicians. There were more than 20 naturopathic medical colleges, and NDs were licensed in a majority of states. Naturopathic medicine experienced a decline in the 1940s and ’50s with the rise of pharmaceutical drugs, technological medicine, and the idea that drugs could eliminate all disease. As one after another ND degree program closed down, National University of Naturopathic Medicine was founded to keep the medicine alive. The drop–off in popularity was so steep that during its first 20 years, National University of Naturopathic Medicine graduated only 70 students. From its founding in 1956 until 1979, when three of its alumni founded John Bastyr University (now Bastyr University) in Seattle, it was the only naturopathic college in the U.S.

While naturopathic medicine has been present in the United States for a century, National University of Natural Medicine, the oldest accredited naturopathic medical school in North America, celebrated its 50–year anniversary in 2006. NUNM has been at the center of the profession, preserving and extending the legacy of naturopathic medicine, founded by those who started practice in the 1920s and ’30s, and training those who would follow them generations later. The profession has experienced a resurgence in the past two decades as a health–conscious public has sought alternatives for conditions that conventional medicine has not adequately addressed.

Since the late 1970s, three more naturopathic colleges have opened, and National University of Natural Medicine’s enrollment has quadrupled. This growth is in direct response to the changing needs of our society; not only is the public demanding a medical model in which the individual plays a more active role in her/his health and healing process, but doctors also want a medical model that is more patient–centered and holistic.

NUNM is alma mater to more than 2,300 naturopathic physicians who practice in nearly every state and province and many foreign countries. Many are nationally recognized spokespersons and teachers as well as successful physicians who have gone on to found new naturopathic colleges. National University of Natural Medicine alumni have also founded professional associations to promote and expand naturopathic medicine. This is an exciting time to join the profession and help make history in the field of naturopathic medicine.