Alternative medicine degrees are offered in both the master's and doctorate degree levels. Practitioners of alternative medicine often need to earn a license after completing a degree program. A master's program likely requires a thesis or research project for graduation, while a doctorate requires an internship. A bachelor's degree is needed for enrollment into a four year master's degree, while a master's (preferably in a science field) is required for the doctorate.
Master of Science in Complementary and Alternative Medicine
A master's degree in complementary medicine is seen as an alternative to mainstream healthcare programs. Programs address such non-invasive treatment options as naturopathy, herbology, meditation, and acupuncture. Eastern and Asian traditions and techniques are often incorporated.
The 'complementary' aspect refers to fusing concepts of natural medicine with traditional medicine in order to make it more accessible to the public. Often, these practices are appended to a comprehensive healthcare plan which may also incorporate traditional medicine. For example, a student of alternative medicine would advise a naturopathic diagnosis and approach before considering conventional drug or surgery options. For this reason, a master's degree in the field may lead to an academic or leadership role as a teacher, lifestyle coach, or consultant. To practice medicine, a doctorate is required.
Coursework within the program covers:
- General, organic and biochemistry
- Fundamentals of toxicology
- Principles of phytochemistry
- Legal issues in healthcare
- Human nutrition and health
- Herbal medicine and nutritional supplements
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine
The practice of naturopathic medicine encompasses all natural, holistic approaches to diagnosing and treating disease. Botanical medicine, counseling, homeopathic medicine, and acupuncture are taught within the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (ND) program. Related studies include oriental medicine or chiropractic medicine. There are five accredited naturopathic medical schools in the United States.
Graduates have the knowledge and skills to take the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX) and become licensed practitioners. A state license may also need to be obtained where applicable. Graduates also have the option of joining a national organization such as the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians.
Within the doctoral program, classes expand upon the following topics:
- Human anatomy
- Nutrient therapy
- Naturopathic counseling
- Healing systems
Popular Career Options
The ND is the terminal level of education for alternative medicine, but doctors may aim to further specialize in botany, dermatology, immunology, oncology, nutrition, obstetrics, pediatrics, or other fields. With a doctorate in naturopathy, graduates have the option to either practice medicine or use their gained research skills in an academic or scientific setting. Career titles may include:
- Naturopathy consultant
- Healthcare analyst
- Research scientist
- Natural or holistic medicine instructor
Master's and doctorate level education exist for the alternative medicine field, offering students the opportunity to learn about a variety of non-traditional medical practices, with specialization options for a variety of careers.