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How to Become a Holistic Doctor: Education and Career Roadmap

Learn how to become a holistic doctor. Research the job description and the education and licensing requirements and find out how to start a career as a holistic doctor.

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Do I Want to Be a Holistic Doctor?

Holistic doctors are medically trained physicians who work in one or more modalities that focus on the health of the entire person. They may integrate acupuncture, massage or herbal medicine into their practices. Holistic doctors often take into account a wide range of conditions, such as mental health, lifestyle and nutrition, when examining a patient's health.

Holistic doctors have the advantage of working more regular hours than some of their medical counterparts. The majority of such practitioners work in a medical office or clinic setting, although some may practice out of their homes or visit their patients' homes. The field of holistic medicine is still small, though growing, and building a client base may pose a challenge.

Job Requirements

Several different educational pathways are available for careers in this area, but typically, a professional degree, such as a Doctor or Osteopathic Medicine or Naturopathic Medicine, is required. The completion of experience and licensure are also required. Check out the table below to learn more about the common requirements for holistic doctors:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Professional*
Degree Field Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) or Naturopathic Doctor (ND)*
Licensure and Certification Licensure is required*
Experience Experience in health care is required*
Key Skills Active listening, critical thinking, science, speaking, judgment and decision making, complex problem solving, service orientation and active learning skills**
Computer Skills Accounting software, information retrieval or search software, label making software, medical software and spreadsheet software**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and **O Net Online.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree with Prerequisite Coursework

A bachelor's degree is an almost across-the-board requirement for admission into medical school. Some programs consider applications from stellar students with some college coursework and the necessary prerequisites through early admission programs. Coursework typically includes chemistry, physics, biology, English and mathematics. A student wishing to become a medical doctor (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO) needs to take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Step 2: Earn a Medical, Chiropractic or Naturopathic Medicine Degree

Several different degree options exist for becoming a doctor, within which leeway varies for practicing as a holistic doctor. Legally recognized doctor's degrees in the U.S. include the MD, DO, Naturopathic Doctor (ND) and Doctor of Chiropractic (DC). NDs, DCs and DOs are taught to approach illness and health from a holistic viewpoint, while MDs typically are not. These degree programs generally involve at least four years of training followed by a 2-6 year residency.

Step 3: Complete a Residency or Internship

The residency or internship portion of medical school training allows the student to work under supervision as a doctor in a field of his or her choice. Graduates pursuing careers as holistic doctors need to find residencies that match their interests. MDs and DOs have a wide variety of medical specialty areas from which to choose, including emergency medicine, obstetrics, surgery and general medicine. Common residencies for chiropractors are diagnostic imaging and sports medicine. Naturopathic doctors may choose to work in neurology, minor surgery or women's health, among other areas.

Step 4: Become Licensed

In the U.S., all physicians and surgeons are required to be licensed. After completing one or more residencies, MDs and DOs are eligible to become licensed after passing practical and written exams. For MDs, that exam is the U.S. Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE); for DOs, it's the Comprehensive Osteopathic Medical Licensing Examination, or COMLEX-USA. Chiropractors must be licensed in all 50 states and the District of Columbia; licensing exams are given at the state level and vary by jurisdiction. For NDs, licensing laws vary by state, with some U.S. states having no licensing requirements. In states that require an ND to be licensed, the ND must have graduated from a nationally accredited school of naturopathic medicine and must pass the Naturopathic Physician Licensing Exam (NPLEX).

Step 5: Learn About Holistic Healing Modalities

Holistic healing training programs offered at public and private schools allow doctors to broaden their scope of knowledge. Medical doctors are permitted to practice most modalities. Holistic doctors might incorporate homeopathy, herbal medicine, acupuncture, biofeedback and other holistic healing modalities into their practices.

Step 6: Apply for a Job or Start a Holistic Medical Practice

Holistic doctors may work at integrative medical clinics, while others choose to open up their own holistic healing medical practices. Opportunities in this field are expanding as health insurance providers increasingly cover complementary and alternative healing treatments.

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