Careers in Herbal Science: Job Options and Requirements

Herbal science is a field with many specializations, including plant based medicine and healing. Continue reading for an overview of the degree programs, as well as career and salary info for some career options for graduates.

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Pursuing a career path as a naturopathic doctor involves pursuing a variety of educational degrees and training. There are different career paths you can take in the herbal science field, including careers as an acupuncturist and oriental medicine practitioner. Look into details concerning the salary, job growth expectancy, and detailed job description for both herbal science professions.

Essential Information

Herbal science studies the biological and biochemical properties of plants, fungi and other natural substances. It is a growing field based on the perceived benefits of herbal products over - or in conjunction with - modern medicine. Herbal compounds are held by specialists to be more effective for long-term and preventative usage.

Career Naturopathic Doctor Acupuncturist and Oriental Medicine Practitioner
Education Doctoral degree; Post-doctoral training; Professional degree Master's degree; Doctoral degree; Professional degree
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 9-13% (for health diagnosing and treating practitioners) 9-13% (for health diagnosing and treating practitioners)
Median Salary (2015)* $74,710 $74,710

Source: *O*Net

Career Options

One of the largest subfields in herbal science is herbal medicine, which is a type of complementary and alternative medicine. Herbal medicine is also an important part of traditional Chinese medicine. Students in both of these areas often devote some of their studies to herbal science, whether their career goal is to be a naturopathic physician or an acupuncturist.

Naturopath

A naturopathic physician with a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D. or N.M.D.) degree is a primary care doctor with a holistic focus. Aspiring physicians in this field study both traditional and modern medicine, incorporating areas such as herbal and botanical medicine, homeopathy and hydrotherapy alongside more standard medical topics like anatomy, biochemistry and pathology. A naturopath might apply the principles of herbal science by recommending supplements to patients, such as an herbal treatment that helps to alleviate the symptoms of menopause.

O*Net reported a projected job growth of 9-13% from 2014-2024. According to the same summary report, the median annual salary of naturopathic doctors in 2015 is $74,710.

Oriental Medicine and Acupuncture Practitioner

Oriental or Chinese medicine is the overall category for a variety of therapeutic disciplines that originated in the Far East. Acupuncture is perhaps the most well known of these, but breathing techniques and particular herbal therapies are also classified Oriental medicine. This field is sometimes referred to as acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM).

AOM practitioners aim to relieve pain and promote wellness by inserting slim needles at particular spots on a patient's body. Herbal treatments are sometimes used in conjunction with acupuncture. For example, during the practice of moxibustion, certain herbs may be burned and applied to acupuncture needles to warm them.

The career outlook for acupuncturists is projected at 9-13% from 2014-2024; O*Net cites a 2015 median salary of $74,710 for acupuncturists.

Requirements

Education for a Naturopath

Naturopathic physicians must complete an accredited N.D. or N.M.D. program. The accrediting body for these programs is the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME), which as of 2015 accredited five programs in the United States (www.cnme.org).

These programs require applicants to have a bachelor's degree, though a degree in a specific discipline may not be necessary as long as students fulfill prerequisite coursework. Common prerequisites are in the sciences, particularly biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and physics. Since most N.D. and N.M.D. programs include coursework in botanical and herbal medicine, prior study in botany may also be recommended.

Students can generally complete their program in 4-6 years. Clinical training is a crucial part of naturopathic physician education and some schools may have an on-campus (or affiliated) natural health center at which students can see patients under the supervision of licensed physicians.

Licensing

Although naturopathic medicine is a growing field in the U.S., the practice is not yet regulated in all 50 states. As of January 2015, the following five states had licensing laws for N.D.s: Illinois, Arizona, Connecticut, Oregon, and Washington state.

To gain licensure, candidates must graduate from an accredited program and pass the 2-part Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examinations (NPLEX). The first part of these multiple-choice, case-based exams evaluates candidates' foundational science knowledge, and the second part tests their clinical knowledge. After passing the test, candidates may apply for licensure with their state board (for example, the California Naturopathic Medicine Committee).

Newly licensed N.D.s have the option of completing a residency, which must also be approved by the CNME. Residency opportunities related to naturopathic medicine are available across the U.S., even in those states that don't yet license N.D.s, and may focus on areas as diverse as naturopathic oncology, women's health and arthritis treatment. Botanical or herbal medicine is sometimes an area of emphasis in these residencies, especially those focusing on general naturopathic practice.

Education for a Chinese Medicine and Acupuncture Practitioner

AOM programs often lead to a master's degree or a doctoral degree (DAOM). Master's degree programs should be accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM); however, it's important to note that ACAOM is not yet federally approved to accredit doctoral programs, though it does review DAOM programs for eventual accreditation. A master's degree program may take from 2-3 years of study, with an additional two years required for those who go on to earn a DAOM.

Coursework in an AOM program typically covers acupuncture points, body meridians, sanitation, Chinese and Western medical terminology, nutrition, energy principles and breathing therapy (such as Qi Gong). Herbal medicine courses may examine topics such as herbal formulas, herb preparations, indications and potential interactions between herbs, foods and drugs.

Licensing

Licensure for acupuncturists varies by state, but the majority of states use the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine's (NCCAOM) exams as a basis for licensing. Those who pass the exam (and fulfill education and experience requirements) can apply for licensure with their state's acupuncture board. Licensed acupuncturists typically must complete a certain amount of continuing education in order to maintain or renew their licenses.

In addition to its acupuncture exam, the NCCAOM offers exams in Oriental medicine and Chinese herbology for practitioners who want to obtain certification in these areas. The herbology exam tests applicants' knowledge of topics such as dosage, herb toxicity, storage, dispensary maintenance, side effect alleviation and herb contamination.

The most prevalent career options in herbal science are currently naturopathic medicine and acupuncture. Both professions require a license, although a professional degree or doctoral degree can be acquired if desired. Since the annual salary and projected job growth are similar in nature, decide which job description is more appealing to your ideal career path to make the best choice.

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