Herbal Medicine Careers: Job Descriptions and Educational Info

Training in herbal medicine covers how to use various parts of a plant, including seeds, roots and bark, to create medications, herbal supplements and natural dietary aids. Find out about the requirements of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for herbal medicine graduates.

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Essential Information

While there are no national or international regulatory bodies for herbal medicine practitioners, several organizations attempt to regulate educational standards for related career fields. For example, the American Herbalists Guild (AHG) in the United States offers certificate programs and educational opportunities in herbalism. Accredited natural health schools also offer undergraduate and graduate level degree programs in such fields as herbal sciences, Oriental medicine, or naturopathic medicine.

Potential career paths for herbal medicine graduates may include herbalists, naturopathic physicians, or acupuncturists. Education and licensure requirements for each of these professions vary significantly by both state and federal laws. In addition, while these professionals may administer herbal medicine, it may only be one aspect of their career fields.

Career Titles Herbalist Naturopathic Physician Acupuncturist
Education Requirements Varies by profession Naturopathic medical school degree Acupuncture and Oriental medicine degree
Licensure Required for some career paths, like pharmacists Required Required in most states
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022) Varies by profession; +14% for all pharmacists* +20% for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners* +20% for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners*
Median Salary Varies by profession; $119,280 for all pharmacists* $72,870 for all health diagnosing and treating practitioners (2013)* $46,536 (2014)**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com.

Career Options

Herbalist

Herbalists focus on the medicinal properties of herbs, flowers and plants. Some herbalists may specialize in the growth and cultivation of medicinal herbs from either their home gardens or the wild, while others specialize in the pharmaceutical area of herbalism and offer herbs as parts of treatment programs for numerous diseases. Professionals can also work in both of these aspects of herbalism while running their own businesses.

Herbalism is not a regulated field and there are not many degree programs available. Education programs in herbalism may include such classes as clinical skills, nutrition, botany, pharmacology and therapeutic herbalism. Anyone who wants to become a pharmacist who specializes in herbal medication would need to earn a postgraduate professional degree known as the Doctor of Pharmacy (Pharm.D.) degree. After completing this degree program, graduates generally go through residency programs, and it may be possible to find herbal medicine residency programs. Other requirements to become a pharmacist include completing the licensure process, which may involve passing the Multistate Pharmacy Jurisprudence Exam (MPJE), the North American Pharmacist Licensure Exam (NAPLEX), and any additional tests required by state law.

Naturopathic Physician

Naturopathy is a type of medicine that has its foundations rooted in the healing power of nature. Naturopaths, or naturopathic physicians, find the cause of disease or ailment by examining all aspects of an individual person. A naturopath can either focus on supporting the unique healing abilities of the body or helping clients make positive lifestyle changes in order to improve their overall health and quality of life. Because of this, naturopaths use a wide variety of treatments, including herbal medicine, homeopathic medicine and nutritional counseling.

Due to the fact that naturopathic medicine is rather new in the United States, only 15 states total have licensing boards for practicing naturopaths. In these states, a potential naturopath must graduate from an accredited 4-year naturopathic medical school and pass a licensure examination. The Council on Naturopathic Medical Education accredits naturopathic colleges and maintains a list of qualifying institutions on its website.

Acupuncturist

Most people know acupuncturists as alternative medical practitioners who use needles to encourage the body to heal more naturally. As Oriental medicine practitioners, though, acupuncturists may also recommend herbal remedies and supplements to patients. Most of their knowledge of herbal medicine, however, is based in Chinese medicine, so the types of herbs they recommend me not be the same herbs as recommended by Western herbalist practitioners.

Information from the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) indicates that there are currently no standardized certification or licensing practices for Chinese herbology practitioners. Acupuncturists, on the other hand, are required to be licensed in the majority of states. While licensure processes vary, most states require acupuncturists to complete acupuncture and Oriental medicine training programs and pass certification exams, such as the exam offered by NCCAOM.

Job Outlook and Salary Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not have exact data on herbalists, naturopathic physicians, or acupuncturists. They do have data on related career fields, though. For instance, available positions for health diagnosing and treating practitioners were expected to grow by 20% between 2012 and 2022. During that same decade, open positions for pharmacists in general were expected to increase by 14%.

In 2013, the BLS reported that pharmacists in general earned a median annual salary of $119,280. Naturopaths are listed among health diagnosing and treating practitioners, according to the BLS, and in 2013 these workers earned a median salary of $72,870. PayScale.com had salary statistics listed specifically for acupuncturists, and, as of 2014, these professionals earned a median salary of $46,536.

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