Natural Health Degree Program Overviews by Specialization

Oct 14, 2019

Students interested in a career in holistic medicine may consider enrolling in a natural health degree program. Programs are available at the master and doctoral levels, and may focus on a specific training modality such as acupuncture.

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Essential Information

Natural health degree programs teach students holistic approaches to preventing illness and maintaining health, including nutrition, exercise, and homeopathy. In addition to traditional coursework, programs may feature heavy clinical training experiences to prepare students as complimentary/alternative healthcare practitioners. Post-doctoral residencies may also be available. Common admissions requirements include a background in science and math, at least two years of undergraduate work for a master's degree, and a master's degree for PhD.

Master's Degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

A master's degree program in acupuncture and oriental medicine teaches students a holistic approach to healthcare that includes advanced theories and techniques in traditional Chinese medicine. Students become familiar with biomedical terminology, diagnostic procedures, conventional treatment options, pharmacology, and scientific research methodology. Full-time students can complete the program in three years. The program typically includes the following courses:

  • Acupuncture
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Botany and herbology
  • Qi Gong
  • Oriental medicine diagnosis
  • Pharmacology

Doctoral Degree in Naturopathy

Naturopathic doctors receive an education that is similar to that of a medical doctor, which allows them to practice as primary physicians. Accredited naturopathic doctoral programs must follow academic guidelines from the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC). The four-year program requires the completion of approximately 4,500 contact hours in the classroom and the clinic. The field of naturopathy emphasizes wellness and disease prevention. Students of naturopathy learn to identify the cause of disease and focus on healing, rather than just removing the symptoms. Many related disciplines are utilized in this program as well. Some courses that are unique to the these programs include the following:

  • Botanical medicine
  • Healing systems
  • Homeopathy
  • Naturopathic counseling
  • Nutrition
  • Oriental medicine

Popular Career Options

While a career as an acupuncturist is an option for students completing a master's degree program, the following careers may also be appealing:

  • Acupuncture researcher
  • Writer on Chinese medicine issues
  • Chinese herbalist
  • Specialist in sports medicine
  • Professor of integrative medicine

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) categorizes naturopathic physicians under the broader category of health diagnosing and treating practitioners. According to the BLS, health diagnosing and treating practitioners could expect job growth of 13% from 2018-2028. As of May 2018, the BLS reported health diagnosing and treating practitioners earned a median annual salary of $73,960.

Continuing Education

Most states require individuals to be licensed to work as an acupuncturist. Voluntary certifications for both acupuncturists and Chinese medicine practitioners are available through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCADM). Some states allow these certifications for licensure. Licenses are renewable every four years via 60 professional development activity (PDA) points.

As of 2015, seventeen states, the District of Columbia, and two U.S. territories have laws governing naturopathic doctors. Licensing requires graduation from a 4-year medical college and the passing of the comprehensive Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination (NPLEX). Naturopathic doctors must be approved by the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners to take the NPLEX. Maintenance of the license requires continuing education each year; each state defines its own requirements. Some states that do not have licensing requirements allow naturopaths to consult with patients and make suggestions and recommendations based on previous diagnoses.

Studies in natural health are available to prospective students at both master's and doctoral levels. Popular career options amongst graduates include an acupuncture researcher or Chinese herbalist.

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