Herbalist Career Information and Employment Outlook

An herbalist, engages in the practice of using plants for medical purposes. The practice is sometimes referred to as botanical medicine, herbal medicine, (medical) herbalism, herbology or phytotherapy. Herbology may include elements of Western botanical medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda, which is a holistic system of medicine from India. Herbalists work with doctors, in alternative medicine facilities, wellness centers or as independent practitioners.

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Herbalist Career Information

Job Duties

Like a medical doctor, an herbalist consults with patients to help diagnose medical problems. Herbalists also use knowledge of both traditional and contemporary medicine in their practices. Herbal practitioners usually operate their clinics just like a doctor's office, which means they maintain patients' records, follow-up on appointments, make referrals and engage in all the activities associated with operating a private medical practice.

Education Options

Depending on whether their goal is a career or personal interest, students can choose among many options to get an herbal education. Many colleges and universities, as well as schools of naturopathic medicine, offer classes and programs in botanical medicine. There are also well-established programs in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine. Bastyr University is the only accredited college in the United States that offers a bachelor's degree in herbal science (www.bastyr.edu).

Distance-learning, short courses (6- to 8-month programs), on-site courses, apprenticeship programs and independent study are other options for students who want to train for a career in herbology. The American Herbalists Guild (AHG) has a resource guide to getting an herbal education. AHG also runs a mentorship program to provide guidance to herbology students and help them meet their requirements for clinical training and supervision (www.americanherbalistsguild.com).

Coursework

AHG recommends that a program of herbal education includes courses in botany, therapeutic herbalism and pharmacognosy (the study of drugs derived from plants and other natural sources). Classes in basic human sciences, including anatomy, pathology, physiology and nutrition should also be part of the curriculum. In addition, the AHG recommends students get training in counseling, physical assessments, dosing strategies and other clinical skills.

Licensing

There are currently no federal or state agencies that regulate herbal practice. While some countries have minimum education standards to be an herbalist, these standards are not the same between or even within countries.

Employment Outlook

According to a survey done by the National Center for Contemporary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies, including herbal medicine, is on a slow rise in the United States. In 2002 about 36% of all U.S. adults used CAM therapies; by 2007 that number had risen to over 38%. Also in 2007 about 12% of the nation's children were using some type of CAM (www.nccam.nih.gov). Increasing CAM use should translate to more job opportunities for all types of alternative medicine practitioners.

There are other employment options for herbalists besides herbal medicine practitioner. Trained herbalists can also become teachers and researchers. They can find employment in the herbal industry as representatives, managers, manufacturers or consultants. Other career options include cultivating or 'wildcrafting' herbs for medicinal use, working in the health and wellness industry, becoming a production or processing specialist and specializing in quality assurance.

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