Complementary and Alternative Medicine Programs

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While alternative medicine is well established and widely accepted in other parts of the world, in the United States it is just now gaining popularity. It still is not considered part of conventional Western medicine. Some alternative medicine practitioners might see this as a drawback, but what it really means is that there is a lot of room for growth. For those medical professionals and entrepreneurs who understand the value of alternative medicine and can communicate its benefits to consumers, the career possibilities are endless.

Where conventional Western medicine focuses on treating a patient’s symptoms, complementary and alternative medicine (including naturopathic medicine) takes a wholistic approach–treating not just the symptom but the whole person. Another noteworthy contrast is that alternative medicine tents to be prevention-oriented and employs processes designed to help that body heal itself, where Western medicine is reactionary and employs invasive techniques and drugs to address health issues.

Students of alternative medicine will be introduced to various techniques and non-invasive methods for treating and preventing illness. These may include herbal remedies, dietary supplementation, acupuncture, acupressure, new age healing, reflexology and homeopathic medicines. Wholistic healers and alternative medicine practitioners treat many of the same conditions and ailments as medical doctors, including back pain, arthritis, cancer and migraines.

While some complementary and alternative medicine practitioners work in hospitals and clinics, the majority run their own private practice or work in wholistic healing centers. Others work as massage therapists, Chinese medical practitioners, chiropractors, and herbalists.

Alternative Medicine Educational Requirements

More and more traditional colleges and universities now offer programs in alternative medicine. There are also several specialty schools that offers degrees and certificates in this field. Individuals seeking a career in complementary or alternative medicine have several education options. They can study holistic health, herbal medicine, massage therapy, chiropractic, yoga, and oriental body therapy, among other alternative medicine specialties and modalities. While coursework will vary depending on the area of focus, most programs will cover both human anatomy and physiology.

There are several degrees offered at both the undergraduate and graduate level that will prepare students for successful careers in alternative medicine. For example, there are several Bachelor of Science (B.S.) programs with concentrations in herbal science that will prepare students for careers in herbology. Many master’s degree programs now combine the study of traditional Western medicine with non-traditional Eastern medicine–and excellent education option for those seeking opportunities in holistic medicine. There are also doctoral degrees offered in various discplines within the field of alternative medicine, such as Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D. or NMD), the open up a wide range of career opportunities.


While many complementary and alternative medicine specialties (iridology, reflexology, etc.) are not regulated, for certain areas of practice a license may be required. For the first time ever, in 2010, 16 states recognized Naturopathic Doctors (N.D.) as a medical profession. Consequently, in these states NDs must now complete an accredited doctoral degree program and pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination Board exam (NPLEX) before they can receive a state mandated license. Many states now require that acupuncturists also be licensed.

Alternative Medicine Degrees and Certificates

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