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Natural Medicine Masters Degree Program Overview

There are several possible graduate degrees in natural or alternative medicine. Students in these programs learn about diagnostic and treatment procedures through classes, labs and hands-on clinical work.

Essential Information

Students seeking a graduate degree in natural medicine often choose among a Master of Science in Acupuncture, a Master of Science in Oriental Medicine or a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. Admission to these programs requires a bachelor's degree and may require previous credit in general biology, general chemistry and intermediate algebra. Many states require certification for practitioners of these types of medicine, so prospective students should make sure the programs they're considering meet state requirements.


Master of Science in Acupuncture

The curriculum of a master's degree in acupuncture program is designed to prepare students to practice acupuncture. In combination with natural medicine topics, students participate in clinical sessions where they observe patient consultation, diagnosis, and therapy. Acupuncturists insert very thin needles into particular pressure points on the body to activate healing, relieve pain or induce numbness or sleep. The Master of Science in Acupuncture programs are usually three years long. Coursework for graduate acupuncture programs includes many science courses, such as biology, anatomy, and organic chemistry. Courses less familiar, but still instrumental in learning the field might include:

  • Clean needle technique
  • Diagnosis in traditional Chinese medicine
  • Energy and structure of touching
  • Partnering with nature
  • Points and meridians
  • Spirit of the points

Master of Science in Oriental Medicine

There are several approaches for earning a master's degree in oriental medicine. Most schools focus on traditional oriental medicine, but a few focus on classical oriental medicine. These oriental medicine approaches differ in terms of medicinal methods and healing philosophies. Some degree programs also present a lot of Western medical science to aid graduates in integrating patient treatment plans. Additionally, Chinese medicine is the basis for most school programs, but a very few are based on Japanese medicine. The focus of each degree program significantly influences what courses are offered. Examples of three different focuses are given here:

Classical Chinese oriental medicine programs may include:

  • Classical Chinese medicine basics
  • Acu-Moxa points and techniques
  • Auricular therapy
  • Chinese diagnosis procedures
  • Chinese pathology

Japanese oriental medicine programs may include:

  • Japanese acupuncture therapy
  • Traditional Japanese herbs
  • Shiatsu
  • Hari acupuncture

General oriental medicine programs may include:

  • Tui Na
  • Asian bodywork
  • Meridian and point energetics
  • Oriental medicine differential diagnosis
  • Qigong

Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine

Naturopathic medicine is known as a natural approach to healthcare. Its foundational thesis is that when given the proper support, nutrition, herbs, movement, stimulation, etc. patients' bodies are able to heal themselves. Naturopathic doctors are trained to be primary care physicians and care for every disease that allopathic doctors (medical doctors) do. In a growing number of states, naturopathic physicians must receive a 4-year degree from a residential naturopathic medical school. They must also pass the North American Board of Naturopathic Examiners' NPLEX licensing exam. The Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine coursework reads much like that for an allopathic medical student. Courses unique to the doctor of naturopathic medicine program can include:

  • Botanical medicine
  • History of naturopathic medicine
  • Manipulation in naturopathy
  • Natural medicine philosophy
  • Naturopathic counseling
  • Naturopathic therapeutics

Popular Career Options

Graduates with a master's degree in acupuncture usually work in private practices, but others seek work in healthcare facilities. Acupuncture careers may include:

  • Herbalist
  • Researcher
  • Specialist in sports medicine

Although most naturopathic doctors choose to be primary care physicians, other career options are also available. These include:

  • Holistic instructor
  • Educator in public healthcare
  • Medical consultant
  • Natural health pharmacist
  • Researcher

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) found that in 2007 38% of American adults and 12% of children used some method of complementary and alternative medicine. A survey by the American Hospital Association (www.aha.org), reports that the number of hospitals offering complementary and alternative medicine care rose from 26.5% in 2005 to more than 37% of respondents in late 2007. These statistics demonstrate that Americans' use of complementary and alternative medicine is growing quickly, and so are the job opportunities in oriental medicine. According to January 2016 statistics from Payscale.com, a licensed acupuncturist earned a median annual salary of $48,735.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected job growth of 12%, faster than the average for all occupations, for health educators from 2014-2024. Health educators, the BLS reported, earned a median annual salary of $51,960 as of May 2015. Pharmacists, in general, could expect job growth of 3% and earned a median of $121,500. The BLS also reported job growth of 8% for medical scientists from 2014-2024, who earned a median annual salary of $82,240, as of May 2015.

Continuing Education and Certification Information

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) has a nationally accredited certification program for acupuncturists, resulting in a Diplomate in Acupuncture designation. In 2009, 18 states required acupuncturists to take the NCCAOM exams, and 23 states required acupuncturists to have NCCAOM certification, according to NCCAOM (www.nccaom.org). Diplomates must be recertified every four years. Recertification is based on earning 60 Professional Development Activity (PDA) points, with at least half in continuing education or school courses.

In addition to its certification in acupuncture, the NCCAOM offers a certification resulting in the Diplomate in Oriental Medicine designation. Professionals are eligible for recertification every four years after completing professional development activities, such as continuing education courses and supervising clinical sessions.

The District of Columbia, 15 U.S. states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico all have laws for naturopathic physician licensure, according to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (www.naturopathic.org). Following completion of the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program, prospective naturopaths are expected to take and pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX). As licensed professionals, they must fulfill annual continuing education requirements as mandated by each of these states to keep their license intact.

Students interested in natural medicine can choose among master's and doctorate programs to prepare for professional practice. Once students have graduated from these programs, they might have to become licensed or certified before practicing.


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