How to Choose the Best Alternative Medicine Degree?

This article provides information about alternative medicine degree programs and how this can be a good choice for a career. We also will provide information and links to some good online degree programs in alternative medicine.

Alternative medicine can go by many names – from natural to complementary to holistic – and many professionals in this field promote wellness and health by utilizing only natural methods, which often includes acupuncture, herbs or massage.

This alternative approach to Western medicine is based upon traditions that go back thousands of years in many world cultures. Alternative medicine generally has become more popular in the West as patients are seeking more natural treatments that cost loss and are less invasive.

Depending upon your career direction, you could become an acupuncturist or massage therapist. Or you could be a practitioner of herbal medicine. There are many possibilities.

Overall, alternative medicine professionals have a holistic approach to the care of patients. They intend to treat the entire patient and not just the symptoms that the patient has. You will focus on addressing the symptoms of their problem but also on treating the overall body so that the problems do not recur.

In many alternative medicine practices, the patient could be an active participant in the treatment. He or she may make changes in their lifestyle to also promote better health.

Some of the most popular career options today for alternative medicine are:

  • Chinese medicine practitioner: This career field includes acupuncture, oriental medicine and herbology. It focuses on dealing with the entire body by finding the energy points for the person, which are called meridians. The professional tries to balance the yin and yang of the patient. Acupuncture features applications of tiny needles to the meridians of the body to reduce certain conditions. Herbology uses the natural parts of plants to serve as an alternative to prescription drugs.
  • Massage therapist: Work in massage therapy can be a very good option for many who are interested in alternative therapies. You will learn many different features of alternative medicine and how they interact with modern science. A traditional massage therapist massages muscles to ease pain. But massage therapists who focus on alternative medicine may include parts of aromatherapy, reflexology and Reiki.
  • Aromatherapist: Use fragrances of essential oils and extracts of plants to cure many conditions and to provide relaxation to the body and reduce stress. This involves mixing different elements of massage and herbology.

Government statistics regarding job demand are more difficult to come by for some alternative medicine professions. However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does state that the job outlook for massage therapists is strong, with an impressive 22% increase in demand anticipated by 2024.

This could be because more states are adopting licensing requirements and standards for the field, and the practice of massage is becoming more respected by people as a way to treat medical problems.

Also, more traditional healthcare providers are likely understanding the many practical benefits of massage, so demand is increasing as massage becomes a standard part of treatment plans. Some sports teams also may hire massage therapists to help athletes to recover from injuries.

Note that in most states, you do need to have a license or certification to be a massage therapist. The most common examination for licensure is the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination.

If you are interested in a career in alternative medicine, please review the educational options below.

Master of Acupuncture

If you think that a career in acupuncture is what you want, think about the Master of Acupuncture degree program that is offered by Maryland University. This program is made to combine the traditions of ancient healing with modern science to treat the entire person.

The two year program will provide you with a complete understanding of the foundations of acupuncture and Oriental medicine. It also will focus on the Five Element Acupuncture tradition, as well as Eight Principle strategies. You further will be introduced to biomedicine from a holistic perspective.

This program stresses a curriculum that is relationship centered and fully acknowledges the complex relationship between our bodies, minds and spirits. This program also provides you with a strong foundation in practice management, and you will learn the skills you need to build an acupuncture practice, or to enter the job force as an acupuncturist.

According to the university’s website, most of the graduates of this program, which number more than 1000, work throughout the US and also in seven countries. Most graduates have either independent or group practices in their communities. Some other graduates have a shared practice with a regular doctor, chiropractor or mental health professional.

Many graduates are working in hospitals, university health systems, health clinics and wellness programs.

After you graduate from this program, you can obtain your acupuncturist certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.

Master of Herbal Medicine

American University offers an online Master of Science in Herbal Medicine that helps the student to develop a full understanding of clinical herbalism and to professionally apply the knowledge to educate consumers and clients about the importance of a mind/body approach to health.

This is a highly rigorous master’s program that has gained greatly in popularity in the last five years. Clinical herbalism consulting is a very fast growing area of healthcare. Clinical herbalists have a very important role in health and wellness and alternative medicine. There have been recent clinical studies done that support the use of herbal alternatives for pain management, managing allergies and also for anxiety and depression management.  Classes in this program include:

  • Assessment and Integration of Research
  • Advanced Herbal Materia Medica
  • Anatomy & Physiology
  • Advanced Herbal Materia Medica II
  • Anatomy & Physiology II
  • Advanced Herbal Materia Medica
  • Integrative Pathophysiology Online
  • Botany and Plant Identification for the Holistic Practitioner
  • Principles of Pharmacognosy and Phytochemistry Online
  • Fundamentals of Toxicology and Safety in Botanical Medicine
  • Wellness Coaching & Communication Skills
  • Masters Capstone Project

Many graduates of this program go on to become clinical herbalists, herbal educators, herbal retailers, herbal writer, lifestyle coach, and herbal products formulator, among other professions.

Note: you do not have to be licensed to be an herbalist for the most part. There are some states such as CA that have some laws that you should check to see what the licensing requirements are. However, the American Herbalists Guild does have a certification that you may choose to obtain.

Bachelor’s in Massage Therapy

Many massage therapists take individual classes to become a licensed massage therapist, but there are more online universities offering degree options. One of them is Siena Heights University. This program offers online classes for eight weeks each.

This degree takes a total of 120 credits. Additional credit can be given to students who want to complete documented massage hours outside of the ones that are needed for certification.

As noted earlier, you need to take the Massage and Bodywork Licensing Examination after you complete your program to earn your license.

Generally, the field of alternative medicine is growing quickly as more Americans have been exposed to the benefits of less invasive and toxic forms of medicine. We expect this growth to continue for years to come, so it is a good choice for career.

Master of Science in Integrative Medicine

The George Washington University offers a Master of Science in Integrative Medicine that reaffirms the great importance of the practitioner/patient relationship. This degree program teaches you to understand the entire person as the evidence proves. It uses all modern therapeutic approaches and disciplines to provide patients with the best opportunity to health and attain good health.

This innovative master’s program has been developed in collaboration with the Metabolic Medical Institute, and you will understand how important it is to blend advances in medical technology with a highly individualized approach. The result is the perfect balance of disease treatment and wellness care.

This degree teaches students to develop a strong foundation in integrative medicine that contributes to the health and wellness of patients. The entire program takes 30 credit hours, and the classes include:

  • Foundations in Integrative Medicine
  • Self Care Methods in Integrative Medicine
  • Metabolic Networks in Integrative Medicine
  • Legal and Medical Ethics in Integrative Medicine
  • Clinical Research in Integrative Medicine
  • Biostatistics
  • Epidemiology
  • Practical Application of Integrative Medicine
Written by Robert Sanchez
Robert Sanchez is HealthGrad.com's Chief Editorialist. Robert Sanchez has over 10 years experience in the Healthcare field and more recently has become an avid writer advising on career and job topics in this exciting field.

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