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Alternative Medicine Programs

Alternative Medicine Programs

What is Alternative Medicine?

A career in alternative medicine emphasizes treatments that can replace or complement mainstream healthcare practices. Alternative medicine can include massage therapy, natural supplements, yoga, meditation, naturopathy, acupuncture, chiropractic care, homeopathy, movement therapy, and other nontraditional treatments. There are many job titles within alternative medicine, such as aromatherapist, chiropractor, naturopathic physician, yoga instructor, acupuncturist and massage therapist.

Alternative Medicine Program Information

Alternative medicine programs vary in their instruction depending on what type of alternative medicine is being taught. Some programs may only be offered on campus while others may feature a combination of online and in-person instruction. Some may offer clinical labs as well as contact with patients to give students an opportunity to gain practical experience. An education in alternative medicine may include background general education courses, basic medical courses such as anatomy and physiology, as well as in-depth courses in a particular type of alternative medicine. Since alternative medicine is a wide-ranging field, students should look into the various specialties before pursuing a particular program. As with any other program, it's generally a wise idea to check if a school is properly accredited. While accreditation may not be required for some alternative medicine careers, others may depend on it.

Alternative Medicine Program Types

Because of the wide variety of disciplines that feature alternative medicine, programs can be found from the certificate to professional level.

  • Certificate: Certificate programs generally take one year to complete, though this can vary. These programs are sometimes designed for conventional healthcare professionals seeking training in alternative medicine. This type of program may offer general alternative medicine courses as well as specialized classes in subjects ranging from aromatherapy to yoga. Some programs may include an internship or specialize completely in a particular discipline.
  • Associate Degree: Associate degree programs typically include more general education courses than certificate programs and take about two years to complete. May help prepare graduates for study at the bachelor's level.
  • Bachelor's Degree: Bachelor's degree programs generally take about four years to complete, and may be offer a more well-rounded education than certificate and associate degree programs due to the extra credit requirements. These programs may also be well-suited to those looking to pursue graduate education.
  • Graduate/Professional Degrees: Undergraduate coursework may help students pursue further education in cases where it's required. For example, acupuncturists typically need to earn a master's degree and chiropractors must earn a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree.

Some alternative medicine programs may help prepare students for certification and/or state licensure in their field of study.For example, those studying acupuncture at accredited alternative medicine schools may be able to pass exams or gain certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCAOOM) on their way to pursuing licensure in states that require it.

Alternative Medicine Course Descriptions

While alternative medicine programs can vary widely depending on their focus, some may have a similar core curriculum. Certificate and degree programs may include some of the following alternative medicine courses.

  • Anatomy: Central nervous system, endocrine system and internal organs. Skeletal, muscular, nervous and vascular aspects of the body.
  • Mind and Body Medicine: Relaxation techniques, stress management, biofeedback and counseling.
  • Botanical Medicine: Natural supplements and botanicals as medicine, and how to properly administer them.
  • Nutrition: Treating conditions through food, diet and natural supplements.
  • Acupuncture and Physiology: Acupuncture point structure and its importance, practical methods and basics of acupuncture methodology.

Alternative Medicine Specialties

Specialized programs are available for students interested in entering certain areas of alternative medicine. These specialties include:

  • Naturopathy
  • Acupuncture
  • Chiropractic Care
  • Ayurveda
  • Mind and Body Medicine
  • Chinese Medicine
  • Massage Therapy

Related Career Options

Those interested in alternative medicine programs may want to learn more about the following careers, which can fall under the umbrella of alternative medicine.

  • Holistic Health Practitioners: Attempt to look at the entire person when treating patients, instead of only focusing on the disease or injury at hand.
  • Nutritionists: Create meal plans, promote health through proper eating and stay current with new research in nutritional science.
  • Massage Therapists: Provide a variety of techniques to relieve pain or tension in various areas of a client's body.

Links to Sources and Associations

Visit the following websites to find out more about alternative medicine schools, programs and careers:

Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

American Holistic Medical Association, Training Programs

Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Chiropractor, 2012

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, "Complementary, Alternative, or Integrative Health: What's In a Name?" 2013

National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

WebMD, Complimentary Medicine, Topic Overview

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