Alternative medicine careers require different levels of education. Here are your curriculum and degree paths.
What holistic medicine degrees are available?
If you plan to work as a naturopathic doctor (ND), you’ll need to earn a doctoral degree in order to practice. This type of program teaches students about all the areas of natural health and prepares them to work in a private practice or clinic.
Other alternative medicine programs, like hypnotherapy or homeopathy, are typically geared toward those with an ND (or MD) and come in the form of diplomas or certificates. Many naturopathic doctors use homeopathy and hypnotherapy to complement their existing treatments. If you’re interested in studying an area of alternative medicine as a hobby, you can also find courses and seminars.
If you plan to attend a college or university to be trained in alternative medicine, you can expect to learn about the following topics:
- Traditional Chinese Medicine
- General and Organic Chemistry
Bachelor’s Degree Programs
A bachelor’s of science (BS) degree in alternative medicine is a four-year program which will incorporate both general education requirements—English, math, science—with specific course work related to alternative medicine.
If you already work in the natural health field as a massage therapist or other profession, earning a BS in alternative medicine can expand your career options and teach you how to include new treatment methods in to your job.
As an example of what you might encounter in a BS in alternative medicine program, Everglades University offers the following classes once a student has completed the general education requirements:
- History of Medicine
- Herbology and Botany
- Nutrition and Aging
- Feng Shui
- Ayurvedic Medicine
- Body Awareness and Physical Movement
Becoming an ND doesn’t require a pre-med undergraduate major, but if you know you’re interested in heading down this career path, be sure to fulfill any science prerequisites that may be necessary for graduate school.
If you’ve got your sights set on a naturopathic doctor career right from the start, there are undergraduate naturopathic programs which include 20 semester or 30 quarter credits of chemistry, botany, biology, anatomy and physiology.
Master’s Degree Programs
If you’re looking to earn a master of science in alternative medicine degree, you’re in luck. There’s no shortage of graduate programs, but you’ll need to determine what area of the field you want to focus on.
- Integrative medicine research
- Health promotion
- Vedic Science
- Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
As an example of coursework in an MS program for alternative medicine, the National College of Natural Medicine (NCNM) Master of Science in Integrative Medicine Research includes these classes:
- Introduction to Integrative Medicine: Chinese medicine, naturopathy, homeopathy and other topics are introduced.
- Intro to Immunology: Immune system functions and how to track health outcomes is covered.
- Bioethics: Students are taught about ethical, regulatory and legal issues as it relates to research.
Physiology and health, nutrition, physical medicine and pulse reading are other topics you’ll be trained in.
Doctoral Degree Programs
Just like a medical doctor (MD), naturopathic doctors need the most advanced degree to practice. In fact, NDs learn the same basic sciences as an MD, but they’re also schooled in a vast array of alternative medicine techniques.
To become an ND, students must be trained in:
- Clinical nutrition
- Botanical medicine
- Homeopathic medicine
- Psychological counseling to help patients make lifestyle adjustments
Clinical training will be another crucial aspect in your doctoral education. With clinical experience, you’ll meet with patients and get a sense of the environment you could one day be working in.
What certification will I need?
Your field of expertise will determine your licensure requirements. Licensure is done through the state you plan to work in, while certifications are generally provided by industry organizations. Certification does not necessarily mean you are licensed to practice.
Not all states distribute licenses for alternative medicine practitioners, but the following 16 states do, along with the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands. The American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP) is a proponent of licensure in all 50 states.
- North Dakota
- New Hampshire
The Homeopathic Academy of Naturopathic Physicians (HANP) certifies NDs.
Homeopathic program graduates are licensed through the Council for Homeopathic Certification (CHC). In Arizona, Connecticut and Nevada, licensed homeopaths are also physicians. Meanwhile, unlicensed practitioners are allowed to practice homeopathy in California, Idaho, Louisiana, Rhode Island, Minnesota and Oklahoma.
If you refer to yourself as a homeopathic doctor, you’ll need to have a medical license, otherwise you can work as a homeopathic counselor.
Several certification organizations give their seal of approval to hypnotherapists including the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists (AAPH), the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (SCEH) and the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (ACSH).
Certification can also be obtained via the American Board of Medical Hypnosis, the American Board of Psychological Hypnosis, the American Board of Hypnosis in Dentistry and the American Hypnosis Board for Clinical Social Work.
Holistic Health Practitioner
The American Association of Drugless Practitioners certifies holistic health practitioners.
What will I learn in my courses?
Naturopathic degree programs train students to become an expert in the field of alternative medicine as well as how to work with patients seeking a different form of medical treatment. ND programs are rigorous and prepare students to work as a primary care physician.
In addition to a clinical practicum, courses will teach you about:
- Naturopathic theory and philosophy
- Botanical medicine
- Anatomy and organ systems
- Therapeutic manipulation
How long will it take?
Your level of education will determine how much schooling you’ll need. An alternative medicine degree can take the following time to complete:
- A bachelor’s degree program takes four years
- Master’s degree programs typically take two years
- Doctoral programs last between four and five years
Are online programs available?
Not unlike traditional medical schools, online naturopathic programs exist, but professional organizations often discourage students from distance learning because medicine is such a hands-on field.
The Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME), the accreditation body for ND schools, doesn’t accredit online programs. If you earn a degree from a non-accredited school, you’ll be unable to sit for the professional exam to become licensed as an ND.
If you work in a state where NDs aren’t licensed and you’ve earned a degree from a non-accredited school, you can still use the ND title, but cannot present yourself as a physician. Instead, you can use your expertise to counsel patients.
If you’re looking to earn a certificate in hypnotherapy or homeopathy, online programs are available.
How much will my education cost?
If you attend a four-year naturopathic school tuition full time, expect to pay approximately $25,000* per year. While the cost can be steep, find out if your school offers financial aid, scholarships or grants.
Making sure your school is accredited is particularly important if you’ll be applying for financial aid. These schools qualify for federal and state financial aid, such as work-study programs and Stafford loans.
Programs for homeopathy and hypnotherapy cost less because they’re usually shorter in length and offered to practicing NDs and MDs as a way to complement their services.
Homeopathic school tuition runs between $200 and $7,500. The reason for the wide range in cost is length of time. Programs in the $200 to $1,000 range are generally week-long or weekend seminars, while the more expensive courses last longer and are more in-depth.
*Cost of tuition only. Prices do not reflect other fees.
Are there prerequisites?
ND program prerequisites
While each school has their own requirements, most NDs will expect incoming students to have:
- Completed bachelor’s degree
- Satisfactory GPA
- Completed coursework in major sciences, psychology and humanities
Homeopathy program prerequisites
Pay attention to the prerequisites for homeopathic programs as some are geared strictly for medical professionals. These will require a medical license as a prerequisite. Programs offered for anyone interested in the practice generally don’t have prerequisites.
What accreditation is there for my program?
Accreditation is an important part of your alternative medicine education. It’s the seal of approval that a school’s program provides a standard of education accepted in the industry. Be aware there are different bodies of accreditation based on the area of medicine you plan to practice.
Attending a school which is not accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) will be a hindrance if you try to sit for a professional board exam. Only graduates of CNME-accredited schools are permitted to take these exams.
Classical homeopathy programs are accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Homeopathic Education in North America.
The Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association, which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, is another accreditation body you may come across.