Alternative Medicine Career Information and Education Requirements

Sep 09, 2019

Alternative medicine practitioners seek to help their clients through traditional and holistic healing practices, such as massage, acupuncture, or reflexology, to name a few. Colleges or universities can be found that provide programs in holistic healing and medicine. Specialized training is definitely needed, but it varies depending on what field a practitioner wishes to enter.

Essential Information

Alternative medicine is a broad field encompassing many forms of non-traditional medicine, including herbal and homeopathic medicines, acupuncture, and new age healing. Education in this field varies from certification to a PhD, depending on which specialization an alternative medicine practitioner chooses. Alternative medicine is the perfect field for those hoping to help heal people with methods not traditional to Western medicine.

Careers Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine Acupuncturist Massage Therapist
Required Education Doctor of Naturopathy (N.D.) or Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (NMD) degree Bachelor's Degree Postsecondary Certificate or License
Licensure Licensure by Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination Board required in some states Licensure by National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine required in most states Licensure required by almost all states
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 13% for all Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners 13% for all Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners 22%
Median Salary (2018)* $73,960 for Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners, all other $73,960 for Health Diagnosing and Treating Practitioners, all other $41,420

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Alternative Medicine Career Profile

The person who chooses a career in alternative medicine will learn to treat and prevent illnesses through methods not normally used by the traditional Western healthcare establishment. These methods include the use of herbal and homeopathic medicines as well as dietary supplements. Other methods of treatment used by practitioners of alternative medicine include holistic medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, reflexology and new age healing.

An alternative medicine practitioner works to promote health and well-being by treating the whole person rather than just symptoms. Those who pursue an alternative medicine career may have the opportunity to help patients suffering from a wide range of ailments, from cancer to back pain, migraines and arthritis. They often work from their own private practice or, less commonly, in hospitals, clinics and other healing centers. Other options in an alternative medicine career include raising and preserving herbs, running a massage therapy practice and becoming a licensed practitioner in Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

Educational Requirements

A student seeking to begin an alternative medicine career may attend a college, university or specialty school that offers certificate and degree programs in this field. There are a number of certificate programs available in alternative medicine specialties, such as holistic health, massage therapy, herbal medicine, yoga instruction and oriental body therapy. Anatomy and physiology courses are common to many types of alternative medicine programs; other coursework varies.

Students can prepare for an alternative medicine career as an herbalist, for example, in a Bachelor of Science program that provides courses in science and herbal science. Some Master of Science programs combine studies of traditional Western medicine and non-traditional Eastern medicine in preparing one for a career in holistic medicine. Areas of study in an alternative medicine doctoral program include acupuncture, oriental medicine and homeopathy. Students in a doctoral program, such as a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D. or NMD) program, gain the opportunity to improve their holistic skills and assist patients in private practices.

Licensure and Regulation

Depending on an individual's area of practice, state licensure in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) may be necessary. As of August 2016, the Doctor of Naturopathy (N.D.) and the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (NMD) were recognized in 16 states and four U.S. territories; naturopathic doctors in these regions must pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination Board exam (NPLEX) after completing their education. Most states require acupuncturists to earn a license by passing the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine exam. Other areas, like reflexology and iridology, are not approved, recognized or regulated by any state.

Alternative medicine is still emerging in the medical field. Depending on the state, a doctorate in naturopathy may be recognized as a valid doctoral degree, while in others, a doctorate in a different medical field can help the aspiring alternative medicine practitioner. Specialized training is needed no matter what field one is entering into. Licenses, certifications, or associate's degrees are examples of the kinds of programs available.

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