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Alternative Medicine Career Information and Education Requirements

Alternative medicine is a broad category of practices that range from therapeutic massage and acupuncture to homeopathy and herbalism. Depending on their specialization, practitioners of alternative medicine may require different types of education, from training in oriental medicine or massage to a doctoral degree in alternative and holistic medicine.

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Alternative Medicine Career Profile

The person who chooses a career in alternative medicine will learn to treat and prevent illnesses through methods not normally used by the traditional Western healthcare establishment. These methods include the use of herbal and homeopathic medicines as well as dietary supplements. Other methods of treatment used by practitioners of alternative medicine include holistic medicine, acupuncture, acupressure, reflexology and new age healing.

An alternative medicine practitioner works to promote health and wellbeing by treating the whole person rather than just symptoms. Those who pursue an alternative medicine career may have the opportunity to help patients suffering from a wide range of ailments, from cancer to back pain, migraines and arthritis. They often work from their own private practice or, less commonly, in hospitals, clinics and other healing centers. Other options in an alternative medicine career include raising and preserving herbs, running a massage therapy practice and becoming a licensed practitioner in Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

Educational Requirements

A student seeking to begin an alternative medicine career may attend a college, university or specialty school that offers certificate and degree programs in this field. There are a number of certificate programs available in alternative medicine specialties, such as holistic health, massage therapy, herbal medicine, yoga instruction and oriental body therapy. Anatomy and physiology courses are common to many types of alternative medicine programs; other coursework varies.

Students can prepare for an alternative medicine career as an herbalist, for example, in a Bachelor of Science program that provides courses in science and herbal science. Some Master of Science programs combine studies of traditional Western medicine and non-traditional Eastern medicine in preparing one for a career in holistic medicine. Areas of study in an alternative medicine doctoral program include acupuncture, oriental medicine and homeopathy. Students in a doctoral program, such as a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D. or NMD) program, gain the opportunity to improve their holistic skills and assist patients in private practices.

Licensure and Regulation

Depending on an individual's area of practice, state licensure in complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) may be necessary. As of May 2010, the N.D. or NMD (or another similar title) was recognized in 16 states and two U.S. territories; naturopathic doctors in these regions must pass the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination Board exam (NPLEX) after completing their education. Most states require acupuncturists to earn a license by passing the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine exam. Other areas, like reflexology and iridology, are not approved, recognized or regulated by any state.

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