Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is a term used to encompass a diverse group of health care practices and procedures that are not embraced by mainstream Western medical thought. Many of these practices aim to provide "natural" remedies and preventative efforts for health related issues. An alternative medicine degree can be used to prepare for a stand-alone career or as a complement to a more conventional health care degree. Complementary and Alternative Medicine techniques cover a wide range of therapies including aroma therapy, chiropractic therapies, massage therapy, acupuncture, herbal therapies, and much more.
Alternative medicine practitioners blend their love for healthy living with a strong desire to help others. They believe in the power of natural healing techniques and use them in conjunction or in place of conventional Western medical practices. Students with an interest in medicine, herbal treatments, and natural remedies are a great fit for alternative medicine degree programs.
How to Choose the Right Alternative Medicine Degree
The Complementary and Alternative Medicine industry encompasses a wide variety of professions, all with different degree and certification requirements. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, most positions within the field require some type of postsecondary training. Designations for individual careers are typically awarded by certification boards, and may be required by certain localities in order to practice. As with most health care professions, licensing and certification in the field of alternative medicine is usually monitored and handled by each state. In order to obtain certifications, a proper license, and designations, practitioners must meet certain educational requirements. Successful completion of board examinations may also be required.
As with conventional medicine, degree requirements vary widely on the type of career being sought. Thus, degrees in alternative medicine can range from the associate level to doctoral programs. Prior to enrolling in a degree program, students should consider their ultimate career goals and whether they plan to practice alternative medicine in a complementary or stand-alone capacity.
The chart below lists a few of the alternative medicine degree programs that are available to students, along with some potential career options for each:
Length of Completion
Associate in Alternative Medicine
Associate degrees typically take up to two years of full-time study to complete.
Massage Therapist, Community Health Worker
Bachelor's in Alternative Medicine
These programs typically take four years of full-time study to complete.
Dietician or Nutritionist, Health Educator, Nurse
Master's in Alternative Medicine (Various Areas of Study)
A master's degree can take up to two years of full-time study after completion of a bachelor's degree.
Nurse Midwife, Dietician or Nutritionist
Doctor of Chiropractic Degree
These programs take about four years of study after earning a bachelor's degree.
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine Degree
These programs take about four years of study after earning a bachelor's degree. Some prerequisites in biology and chemistry are often required.
Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine
Since the term "alternative medicine" pertains to such a wide variety of careers, students should carefully consider what they want to do with their alternative medicine degree upon graduation. Some careers in the field might require specific degrees not listed above. Other students may wish to pursue an online degree in alternative medicine as a way to broaden their knowledge and provide the best treatment possible for their patients.
Before choosing which type of alternative medicine degree to pursue, students must determine whether their desired program meets any licensing requirements in their intended state of practice. They should also be sure that the individual program satisfies the educational requirements needed to sit for any board or certification exams they intend to take.
Expected Job Growth
(2014 - 2024)
|Therapists, All Other||11,320||$60,590||23.6%|
What to Expect in an Alternative Medicine Program
Alternative medicine professionals occupy a wide variety of different roles within the health care industry. Because of this, core courses in these programs will vary significant by degree and specialization. That being said, here are some examples of courses typically found in alternative medicine degree programs:
- Anatomy and Physiology
- Introduction to Aromatherapy
- Fundamentals of Nutrition
- Intro to Clinical Decision Making
- General Chemistry
- Organic Chemistry
- Advanced Biology
- Intro to Naturopathy
- Principles of Acupuncture
- Intro to Chiropractic
- Basics of Herbology and Botany
- Intro to Traditional Chinese Medicines
- Introduction to Homeopathy
As with many conventional health care training schools, alternative medicine degree programs often require students to complete a "hands-on" component. During this internship or practicum, students gain valuable real-world experience that they can apply to their future careers. Students interested in pursuing online degrees in alternative medicine should inquire about any such requirements before enrolling.
Alternative Medicine Degree Specializations
Degrees in alternative medicine encompass a wide range of disciplines and specialties. They can be used to create health care practices based entirely around alternative techniques, or as a complement to conventional Western medicine.
Some popular alternative medicine specialties include:
- Holistic Health Education
- Naturopathic Medicine
- Herbal Therapy
- Oriental Medicine
- Nutritional and Diet Therapy
- Wellness Coaching or Consulting
- Massage Therapy
- Chiropractic Therapy
A student's chosen specialization often determines which degree is ideal for their goals. For instance, a student who wants to become holistic health educator may need only an undergraduate degree to gain entry-level employment. However, a student who wants to practice as a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine must complete both undergraduate and doctoral-level degree programs.
Benefits of an Online Degree in Alternative Medicine
Similar to conventional medical training, students enrolled in alternative medicine degree programs study a wide range of human health and wellness topics, including human anatomy, chemistry, biology, nutrition, and more. Students generally gain most of their knowledge through lectures, texts, and discussion. That makes online degrees in alternative medicine a good fit for students who need additional flexibility that traditional campuses cannot provide.
By leveraging the use of current technologies, students can obtain the foundational knowledge required for most alternative medicine careers -- all from the comfort of their own home. Course materials and lectures are available at any time of day, allowing students to create a study schedule that fits into their already busy lives. Students generally connect with their professors and classmates using message boards, email, and video chat.
While most of their studies can be completed from home, students who pursue an alternative medicine degree online are often still required to complete a practicum or internship. These hands-on situations equip students with practical experience to help prepare them for the reality of working in the field.
Careers in Alternative Medicine
An alternative medicine degree can be a great fit for those who have an interest in helping others through the use of natural treatments and prevention. Although the alternative medicine field covers a broad range of different careers, some of these professions are actually quite familiar to the public. Outlined in the table below are just a few potential careers in the field, along with recent wage and employment data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:
Projected Job Growth 2014-2024
Mean Annual Wage in 2015
Dietician or Nutritionist
Community Health Worker
Doctor of Naturopathy
To learn more about online degrees in alternative medicine, or get information about a specific program, check out any of the schools listed below.
Chiropractors, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/chiropractors.htm
Dieticians and Nutritionists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/dietitians-and-nutritionists.htm
Health Educators and Community Health Workers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/community-and-social-service/health-educators.htm
Massage Therapists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/massage-therapists.htm
May 2015 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
Nurse Anesthetist, Nurse Midwife, or Nurse Practitioner, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/nurse-anesthetists-nurse-midwives-and-nurse-practitioners.htm
Physicians and Surgeons, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/physicians-and-surgeons.htm
Registered Nurses, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm