Masters in Alternative Medicine: Degree Program Overviews

The following article contains an alternative medicine master's degree program overview. Explore educational prerequisites, program coursework, employment outlook statistics and continuing education information.

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Essential Information

Alternative medicine is a relatively new academic field that focuses on treating and preventing illness through means not generally applied by conventional medical professionals. Master's degree programs in alternative medicine may be pursued by both those interested in becoming alternative medicine professionals and conventional healthcare professionals who want to use alternative medicine to complement traditional medicine.

Master's degrees in alternative medicine may offer a number of specializations, including herbal therapy, acupuncture, yoga, biofeedback and hypnosis. Traditional Chinese medicine and Ayurveda are also among popular forms of alternative medicine. Master's degree programs in alternative medicine can be completed in 1-2 years. Most programs culminate in a thesis, which is an original research project overseen by an advisor or advisement committee. Because alternative medicine is a relatively new academic field (and gaining in popularity), many programs emphasize publishing opportunities.

Alternative medicine is often paired with complementary medicine at the graduate level and referred to as CAM (complementary and alternative medicine). Complementary medicine emphasizes ways of pairing alternative medicine with traditional medicine. These degree programs are typically offered through traditional universities; they can be rigorous and require significant scientific and medical study. Other alternative medicine master's degree programs are referred to as holistic medicine programs and are typically offered through oriental medicine colleges. Such programs are intended for those who want to exclusively practice alternative medicine.

Educational Prerequisites

Applicants must have at least bachelor's degrees to be considered for admission to master's degree programs in alternative medicine. Many schools show preference to those with backgrounds in traditional medicine, religious study, biology or nutrition. Applicants should also expect to submit college transcripts, standardized test scores, letters of recommendation and personal statements.

Program Coursework

Coursework in master's degree programs in alternative medicine will vary depending on degree specialization and whether or not the degree includes complementary medicine. Here are some classes that might appear in the curriculum:

  • Meditation
  • Body and mind topics
  • Nutrition
  • Physiology
  • Community holistic wellness
  • Acupuncture techniques
  • Biomedical ethics
  • Homeopathy

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not maintain statistics specifically for alternative medicine professionals, but predicted job growth of 26%, faster than average, for health diagnosing and treating practitioners in general from 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov). Those who graduate from complementary alternative medicine programs may pursue careers as academic scholars, health advocates and lifestyle coaches. Many graduates will incorporate alternative techniques into their existing healthcare practices.

Continuing Education

The master's degree in alternative medicine may be the final academic pursuit for some, especially those who practice primarily in traditional medicine. However, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) provides continuing education seminars in topics, such as aging, integrative medicine, health and spirituality and dietary supplements.

For those whose careers focus exclusively in alternative or holistic medicine, a number of options are available. Graduate certificate programs in alternative medicine areas, such as acupuncture, herbal studies and wellness coaching, are available for those who want to add to their areas of expertise. Alternative medicine practitioners may want to pursue the highest degree level in the field, the Doctor of Oriental Medicine.

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