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Complementary Medicine Degree Program Overviews

Oct 20, 2019

Complementary medicine refers to therapies that are not part of traditional Western medicine, such as acupuncture and herbal remedies. Both undergraduate and graduate degree programs offer broad exposure to these fields and related disciplines.

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Essential Information

As a whole, associate's, bachelor's and master's complementary medicine programs focus on the body's ability to heal itself. Some programs offer specialization in a specific subfield.

An associate's degree program provides a general introduction to the modalities of complementary medicine. At the bachelor's and master's degree levels, programs may be designed for nurses or other healthcare practitioners who want to expand their expertise. Master's program prospects must also have maintained a high undergraduate academic standing of a 3.0-plus GPA, along with a strong prerequisite foundation in biology, chemistry, math, and physics.

In order to become a fully practicing complementary medicine professional, a bachelor's or master's degree is usually required.


Associate's Degree in Complementary Medicine

A somewhat limited number of schools include associate's programs that offer introductory training in complementary healing methods. General education courses are usually incorporated into the curriculum as well. In addition to specific associate's degree programs, complementary medicine coursework is also frequently available in associate's-level nursing and massage therapy programs.

Class topics may encompass the following:

  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Introductory herbalism
  • Aromatherapy study and uses
  • Using food to heal the body
  • Holistic practice and protocols

Bachelor's Degree in Complementary Medicine

Students who enroll in a bachelor's degree program will be introduced to the many therapies that are not considered part of conventional medicine. Relevant coursework can likewise be found in bachelor's degree programs in health science, nutrition and nursing. Some programs may necessitate an internship.

Class topics can include:

  • Holistic nutrition
  • The basics of traditional Chinese medicine
  • History and evolution of cross-cultural healing
  • The role of environment and ecology in health
  • Complementary and alternative medicine legal and practical issues

Master's Degree in Complementary Medicine

Most often offered as a Master of Science program, these programs focus on advanced study of complementary medicine. Master's programs tend to be research-heavy and targeted to healthcare professionals who desire specialization in complementary medicine methods. Intensive research projects or theses are often required for graduation.

Aside from graduate programs centered on this broad field, graduate-level coursework in complementary and alternative medicine is often part of the curriculum in Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) and Master of Public Health (MPH) programs. Some schools even offer a dual-degree program combining this master's degree with an M.D.

Typical class topics include the following:

  • Basics of human physiology
  • Western medical research on Eastern medicine
  • Research into complementary and alternative medicine literature
  • Human nutrition and health
  • Cellular physiology and biochemical pathways

Popular Career Options

Two-year associate's programs give students a sampling of numerous complementary medicine modalities, but graduates do not gain the in-depth training needed to specialize in this field. Associate's degree holders may, however, find work assisting, coaching and educating others about complementary medicine.

Bachelor's degree recipients may also pursue job titles such as lifestyle coach and holistic educator. Many successful bachelor's graduates also work as chiropractors. These professionals treat patients using natural remedies like manipulation of the spine. Graduates with master's degrees, on the other hand, sometimes go on to pursue a medical degree.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), other jobs available to people who have earned a degree in complementary medicine include:

  • Complementary medicine research analyst
  • Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) teacher
  • Wellness instructor, facility manager or coach
  • Holistic health writer or speaker
  • Assistant or administrator at a day spa , holistic retreat facility, or in the health care industry

Continuing Education and Certification Information

For individuals who want to specialize in a certain therapy, such as acupuncture or massage therapy, additional practitioner training may be necessary. License requirements may vary by state.

The American Holistic Medical Association (www.holisticmedicine.org), based in Beachwood, OH, offers continuing education opportunities through its conferences and workshops. It also maintains connections to other complementary medicine organizations. The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (www.nccam.nih.gov), a division of the National Institutes of Health, does research into various complementary medicine therapies and can provide training to professionals.

For those who desire research options, many schools offer graduate programs that may lead to a master's degree or a graduate certificate. The certificate program is similar to a master's degree program but is shorter in duration. Professional organizations dedicated to CAM research may serve as possible future employers for researchers. For example, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine does research into various complementary medicine therapies to see if these therapies safe and effective in healing.

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

According to the BLS, most states license chiropractors. The requirements generally include two to four years of a bachelor's degree program, successful exam scores, plus four years of specialized training through an accredited chiropractic program. Job growth for chiropractors is expected to be faster than the average for all occupations, with growth predicted to be seven percent between 2018 and 2028. The median annual salary for chiropractors as of May 2018 was $71,410.

Students interested in the alternative therapies meant to complement traditional healthcare have an array of options, from higher education offerings dedicated exclusively to complementary medicine to healthcare-related degree programs that feature complementary medicine courses as part of the curriculum.

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