Career Info for an Alternative Medicine Degree

Sep 26, 2019

A degree in alternative medicine is generally a master's or doctoral degree in a specialized field such as naturopathic, osteopathic or chiropractic medicine. Continue reading for an overview of the programs, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

Alternative medicine encompasses the fields of chiropractic care, acupuncture, naturopathic medicine and osteopathic medicine. Most of these professions require a doctoral degree, while acupuncturists and Oriental medicine professionals may opt to pursue a certificate, diploma or degree.

Essential Information

Individuals who are interested in alternative medicine can pursue degrees and certifications in several disciplines, such as acupuncture, chiropractic or naturopathy. Job opportunities in these careers vary by location, particularly since not all states recognize these areas of health care or license their practitioners.

Career Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Naturopathic Medicine Chiropractic Medicine Osteopathic medicine
Education Requirements Master's degree, certificate or diploma in acupuncture or oriental medicine Doctoral degree in naturopathic medicine Doctoral degree in chiropractic medicine Doctoral degree in osteopathic medicine
Other Requirements Licensure Licensure Licensure Licensure
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 11% for health diagnosing and treating practitioners 11% for health diagnosing and treating practitioners 7% for chiropractors 7% for physicians and surgeons
Median Salary $49,875 for acupuncturist (2019)** $72,009 for naturopathic physicians/doctors (2019)** $64,440 for chiropractors (2018)* $211,780 for physicians and surgeons, family medicine (2018)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), **

Career Options

There are various career options for degrees in alternative medicine, including acupuncture and oriental medicine, naturopathic medicine, chiropractic medicine and osteopathic medicine. Read below to get additional information on each career choice, including educational requirements and job outlook data.

Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Careers

Many states require licensure for practitioners of acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Regulations differ by state, but often require the completion of a recognized program in acupuncture or Oriental medicine and passing a comprehensive examination. Many states require acupuncturists or Oriental medicine practitioners to hold certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track information about how much acupuncturists earn, but does note that many practitioners of Oriental medicine and acupuncture are self-employed (, however, noted in September 2019 that the median annual salary for acupuncturists was $49,875.

Degrees in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

Acupuncturists and Oriental medicine practitioners usually earn a master's degree, certificate or diploma from a school accredited by Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Some may also go on to earn either a Ph.D. or a professional doctoral degree, such as the Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM).

Certification in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) offers professional certification for acupuncturists and Oriental medicine practitioners. Requirements for certification vary by program, but generally include passing a comprehensive examination and completing an approved training program, such as a master's degree from an accredited school, or a long-term apprenticeship with an experienced acupuncturist or Oriental medicine practitioner. According to the NCCAOM, 98% of states that regulate the practice of acupuncture require acupuncturists to pass the NCCAOM exam. Many of these states also require certification as a condition of licensure.

Naturopathic Medicine Careers

Naturopathic physicians, also known as naturopaths, treat patients using various types of alternative and holistic health modalities, such as herbalism, nutritional therapy and homeopathy. Some states don't regulate the practice of naturopathic medicine, while others license naturopaths as health care practitioners. The scope of practice for naturopathic physicians varies, and some states permit naturopaths to diagnose illnesses, order tests and prescribe some medications. In September 2019, reported a salary range of $39,000 - $127,000 for most naturopathic doctors, with the median salary being $$72,009.

Degrees in Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic physicians must complete a doctoral degree program through an accredited school of naturopathic medicine. The program takes four years to complete and, according to the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC), includes training in natural healing methods as well as conventional medical science. The AANMC's member schools are naturopathic medical colleges that are both regionally accredited and hold accreditation from the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education.

Naturopathy Certification

Some organizations, such as the American Naturopathic Certification Board and the American Naturopathic Medical Certification Board, offer professional certification options for naturopaths. While these programs don't grant naturopaths the authority to practice, they do indicate that the naturopath has passed the organization's certification examination and, depending on the certification type, has training and knowledge in a specific healing modality, such as nutrition or homeopathy.


Chiropractors work to improve and maintain health by focusing on the alignment of the musculoskeletal system, especially the spine and its vertebrae. They use manual assessments and x-rays to determine whether a patient's spine, ribs or vertebrae are out of alignment, and then may manually readjust these areas. Some chiropractors also offer nutritional counseling or acupuncture services. Chiropractors cannot prescribe drugs or perform surgery. According to the BLS, jobs for chiropractors were expected to increase by 7% from 2018 to 2028, and the median wage for a chiropractor as of May 2018 was $71,410.

Degrees in Chiropractic Medicine

Chiropractic practitioners must hold 4-year Doctor of Chiropractic degrees from accredited chiropractic schools, most of which require a 4-year bachelor's degree for admission. After completing a degree program, chiropractors must apply for licensure in the state or states where they want to practice.

Chiropractic Certification

Chiropractors can earn certification in various sub-specialties of practice, such as sports chiropractic or chiropractic neurology. This certification can increase the chiropractor's marketability and ability to find employment in clinics and practices that offer specialized care.

Osteopathic Physicians

Osteopathic physicians provide comprehensive health care services to their patients, including diagnosis, medical testing, the prescribing of medicines and surgery. The training of an osteopathic physician is comparable to that of a medical doctor, although osteopathic physicians also receive training in spinal manipulation. These doctors may also take a more holistic approach to medicine and incorporate various alternative healing modalities in their practice. Salaries for osteopaths vary by medical specialty, although the BLS notes that more than half practice as family physicians or in some area of general family or pediatric medicine. The BLS shows that physicians and surgeons in family medicine earned a median salary of $211,780 as of May 2018. Jobs for physicians and surgeons are expected to grow faster-than-average by 7% from 2018 to 2028.

Osteopathic Medicine Degrees

An osteopathic physician earns a Doctor of Osteopathy degree (D.O.) from a school accredited by the American Osteopathic Association. The program takes four years to complete. According to the BLS, most graduates of osteopathic medicine programs complete a year-long internship after graduation, as well as a residency in a medical specialty. Licensure is required before an osteopathic doctor may practice medicine.

Osteopathic Certification

After completing a residency, osteopaths can become board certified in a number of medical specialties, including obstetrics, internal medicine and radiology. Certification takes place after the osteopathic physician completes residency training and passes a board-issued examination.

There are many career options for those interested in working in the field of alternative medicine, including an acupuncturist, chiropractor, osteopathic physician or naturopath. All of these professionals must have postsecondary training from programs accredited in their fields and meet all state licensing requirements for their profession. A certificate, diploma or degree is required to work in the field of acupuncture or Oriental medicine, while doctoral degrees are required for naturopaths, osteopathic physicians and chiropractors.

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