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Alternative Healing Careers: Education Requirements and Job Options

Alternative healing focuses on the use of natural methods to treat illness. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary information for some career options for graduates.

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Health care providers are in high demand, but this isn't necessarily limited to family physicians and surgeons. In this article, check out statistics for three alternative healing careers: acupuncture, chiropracty and naturopathy.

Essential Information

Careers with an emphasis on healing using alternative methods can vary widely with respect to the required education and training. Careers for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners are expected to increase over the next decade. The work environment for careers in this field varies, and many individuals are self-employed. Below are some details about three prominent job options in this field:

Career Acupuncturist Chiropractor Naturopath
Education Requirements Minimum high school diploma or GED; bachelor's degree preferred Doctor of Chiropractic Degree Doctoral degree
Licensure Required in many states Required Required in many states
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024) 12% (for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners)* 17%* 12% (for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners)*
Median Annual Salary (2015) $74,710(for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners)* $64,440* $74,710 (for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Alternative healing draws on natural medicines and practices while minimizing the use of surgery and prescription drugs associated with conventional health care. Due to the various methods of alternative healing, education requirements and job options vary greatly. Three popular career paths are acupuncturist, chiropractor and naturopath.

Acupuncturist

Acupuncturists should be well-versed in traditional Chinese medicine, which views the human body as a complex system of pathways that facilitate energy flow between mind and body. Rather than isolating a single symptom or condition, an acupuncturist designs a treatment plan that focuses on the entire body. He or she then targets specific acupuncture points with sterile needles to redirect the body's energy flow and promote natural healing.

Students who wish to study acupuncture need at least a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) credential, but preferred applicants usually have a bachelor's degree and a science background. More than 50 schools nationwide are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine to award master's degrees in acupuncture. In addition to learning to identify the many acupuncture pressure points, students usually explore anatomy and physiology, herbology, Qi Gong, needle practices, patient communication, ethics and basic business management.

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) offers credentialing in acupuncture. This certification is part of the licensing process for many states. Additional licensure requirements vary. As of 2016, four states did not have an Acupuncture Practice Act and therefore did not regulate acupuncture in any way, according to the NCCAOM.

Most acupuncturists are self-employed, while others work at private clinics, alternative healing health care centers, rehabilitation centers or cruise lines. Keep in mind that demand for acupuncture services can vary greatly by state. According to the NCCAOM, Arkansas had only 28 licensed acupuncturists as of December 2012, while California had 10,170.

Current career information for acupuncturists can be compared to information for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners. The expected increase in available jobs is faster than average with a 12% rise between 2014 and 2024 and the median annual salary for employees in this field was $74,710 in May of 2015 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Chiropractor

Chiropractors also develop treatment plans that focus on the overall well-being of the body. These plans generally involve readjusting aspects of a patient's musculoskeletal system, as well as lifestyle change on the patient's part. This might include changes to the patient's diet, exercise routine, posture and sleep habits. Chiropractors sometimes specialize in areas like orthopedics, pediatrics or sports-related injuries.

Many chiropractic schools require that applicants have completed at least 90 undergraduate semester hours in courses including English, biology, chemistry, physics and social sciences. As of 2016, the Council on Chiropractic Education listed 15 accredited Doctor of Chiropractic programs.

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), chiropractic programs usually last four years. Classes tend to focus on anatomy, biochemistry, nutrition, orthopedics, microbiology, physiotherapy and public health.

Once students attain a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.), they must pass an exam administered by a state licensing board. Although exams can vary by state, most states use a test offered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners.

Many chiropractors are self-employed, according to the BLS. Other practitioners joined existing chiropractic practices, sought positions with hospitals or taught at chiropractic schools. The predicted job growth for chiropractors for the decade between 2014 and 2024 shows a 17% increase with the median annual salary reported at $64,440 in May 2015 according to the BLS.

Naturopath

Doctors of Naturopathic Medicine (ND), or naturopaths, are trained as primary care providers. They try to find the most natural, least invasive and least toxic techniques to treat a variety of illnesses. This approach emphasizes the body's ability to heal itself. Like acupuncturists and chiropractors, naturopaths focus on patients' overall health.

Applicants to naturopathic medicine programs must have a bachelor's degree. Students in these 4-year programs complete many of the same courses and clinical experiences as typical medical students. Additional classes might examine acupuncture, botanical medicine, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, nutrition and massage therapy. The Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges listed seven accredited institutions in North America in 2016.

Naturopaths, many of whom are self-employed, work in some of the same areas as primary care providers, including clinics and treatment centers. Some states require of naturopathic physicians to be licensed. Current career information for naturopaths can be compared to information for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners. A faster than average increase in available jobs is predicted with a 12% rise between 2014 and 2024. The median annual salary for all practitioners emphasizing health diagnosing and treatment was $74,710 in May of 2015 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Since there is no specific employment information for naturopaths and acupuncturists, the job growth and salary statistics may be skewed by positions with widely differing demand and salaries being grouped together. For this reason, this information is best treated as a general introduction to the multiple career options in alternative health.

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