Holistic and alternative medicine deal with medical practices that fall outside of what is usually considered contemporary or conventional medicine. This may include using herbs and natural remedies, therapies such as acupuncture and massage, meditation, aromatherapy, or other methods used to aid in healing and wellness. There are degrees at both the undergraduate and graduate level that can help a person pursue a career in the fields of holistic or alternative medicine. Those who are interested in working as a licensed physician using alternative medicines may decide to pursue a medical degree in naturopathy. However, there are other career paths that do not involve medical school. Degrees exist at the associate, bachelor's, and master's level.
During one of these programs, students will focus their studies on topics such as nutrition, aromatherapy, herbal remedies, holistic health counseling, spirituality, homeopathy, physiology, and mind-body health. Alternative medicine professionals may work as nutritionists, spa employees, wellness coaches, meditation instructors, or health educators, though these are just a few of the career paths that one might choose from with an alternative medicine degree.
Undergraduate Degrees in Holistic & Alternative Medicine
Those interested in starting out in this field can earn an associate or bachelor's degree in the field. At the associate level, students will cover general education courses in the humanities, math, and science, while also delving into specific coursework on alternative and holistic medicines. Classes cover the topics of herbalism, nutrition, holistic health consulting, and aromatherapy. Students might also be able to choose a specialization in an area such as holistic spa management, herbal medicine, or aromatherapy, based on their interests. At the bachelor's level, students will study the same sorts of subjects as they would at the associate level, but they will gain a broader and more in-depth range of knowledge. Bachelor's level classes cover such topics as cultural diversity in health and wellness, western herbalism, spirituality, health, and healing, and social implications of medical issues. A capstone course may also be required.
Admission to either one of these programs will require at least a high school diploma or GED. Bachelor's degree requirements may also include a certain high school GPA, test score on the SAT or ACT, and an admissions essay. Tuition for these programs will vary depending on the school. An associate degree can start out at under $10,000 annually, and a bachelor's degree may cost anywhere from around $11,000 a year to $25,000 or more.
There are many career options available for an individual who completes an undergraduate degree in holistic or alternative medicine. After earning an associate degree, graduates can go onto such positions as aromatherapy retailer or educator, wellness coach or consultant, or administrative worker within the healthcare industry. A bachelor's degree qualifies professionals to find work as a alternative health research assistant, energy practitioner, meditation instructor, or holistic spa worker. While neither of these degrees qualify an individual to practice as a physician, they will learn skills that will help them to advise clients on using holistic and alternative elements in healing, as well as identify when it is time for a client to seek out a licensed medical professional.
Graduate Degrees in Holistic & Alternative Medicine
There are both master's degree programs and doctoral programs available in the fields of holistic and alternative medicine. At the master's level, students will spend two years learning how to work with the body as a whole using nutrition, exercise, natural remedies, and other methods to use a whole-body approach to healing. Classes will cover subjects such as aromatherapy science, homeopathy, anatomy, physiology, guided imagery, and mind-body health. While a master's is not enough to qualify an individual to work as a practicing physician, graduates can find advanced positions in the areas of education, advocacy, health coaching, and occupational therapy.
In order to be admitted to a master's degree program, a prospective student will need to have earned a bachelor's degree and submit letters of recommendation and an admissions essay. Tuition for a graduate program will vary greatly depending on the degree level and school. Master's programs can run anywhere from under $10,000 a year to well over $20,000. Doctoral programs can cost $35,000 or more a year.
A doctorate program will take four years to complete, and those who enroll in one of these programs will take classes that cover advanced knowledge in homeopathy, botanical medicine, hydrotherapy, physiotherapy, nutrition, and lifestyle counseling. Students can typically enter a doctorate program with a bachelor's degree in a related subject, though it is recommended that they have some prior exposure to holistic and alternative medicine, whether that be through previous work experience, volunteering, or an internship. They will also partake in clinical work to apply their classroom knowledge in a hands-on environment. Upon completion of a doctorate degree, individuals will be prepared to enter a residency program and eventually become licensed physicians in this field.
Accreditation is the process through which an educational program or institution voluntarily submits to an independent organization for a review. This review process looks at criteria such as curriculum, faculty, quality of facilities, and how well the program prepares its graduates for the workforce. There are a few accreditation agencies that oversee alternative medicine programs, depending on what the focus of the program is. Perhaps the largest accreditation agency in this field is the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME). CNME oversees the accreditation of natural medicine programs at colleges and universities, including the Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine and Doctor of Naturopathy degrees. Those who are interested in becoming naturopathic physicians will want to seek out a program that is accredited by CNME.
There are other accrediting agencies that oversee programs that may be of interest to those planning on pursuing a degree in the fields of holistic or alternative medicine. The Accreditation Council for Education in Nutrition and Dietetics evaluates programs that provide the education necessary for an individual to become a nutrition and dietetics technician or registered dietitian nutritionist. The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine aims to set the educational standards for Oriental medicine and acupuncture programs and accredits programs that meet these standards. Individuals who hope to go into massage therapy will want to seek out a training program accredited by the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation.
Holistic and alternative medicine is a broad field, and it encompasses many types of practices. Naturopathic medicine is one such practice that people often associate with alternative medicine. Naturopathy focuses on using natural and holistic remedies as well as conventional medicine to treat the whole person (mind, body, and spirit), with an emphasis on finding and treating the underlying cause of whatever is ailing the patient. Naturopathic doctors are licensed physicians who have obtained a medical degree and have chosen to focus their study and practice in naturopathy.
There are other professionals that work in the field of alternative medicine who are not licensed physicians. Those interested in alternative medicines may study a specific area, such as herbalism, aromatherapy, or nutrition, and then work in a variety of settings to educate people on using these different methods to treat various issues they may have or to live a more healthy lifestyle. They may find work as wellness coaches, nutritionists, holistic spa workers, meditation instructors, and others. Often these specializations can be studied as part of a degree in alternative or complementary medicine.
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