How to Become an Alternative Medicine Practitioner

From Reiki to naturopathic medicine and everything in between, these careers offer opportunities for those interested in an unconventional approach to healthcare.

person in white lab coat showing shelves to older patient
person in white lab coat showing shelves to older patient
sheila cain

Written and Reported by Sheila Cain
ASD Writer/Editor

If you’re interested in studying alternative medicine, you’ll have your pick of an array of specialties. For example: Ayurvedic practitioners provide whole body treatments using cleansing, guided meditation, and herbal remedies. Naturopaths provide holistic primary care that includes diagnosing patients, prescribing herbal remedies, and performing treatments. Acupuncturists use specialized needles or pressure at specific points on the body to promote healing, reduce pain, and improve overall health.

What is Alternative Medicine?

Alternative medicine is defined as a range of medical therapies that are used instead of traditional, or mainstream, therapies. Sometimes such therapies are referred to as “complementary” medicine, although there are differences. Most notable: Alternative medicine is defined as an approach that takes the place of mainstream medicine, while complementary medicine if often used in conjunction with more traditional healing approaches.

The field of alternative medicine is becoming more and more accepted by the medical community and patients alike. As an example, the respected National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, a department of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, offers regular updates about non-traditional therapies, including a recently published report that discusses the use of zinc, echinacea, probiotics, and other alternative approaches to treating the common cold.

What You’ll Do in an Alternative Health Career

Your tasks and duties will vary greatly when you decide to practice in an alternative medicine career. Here are just some of your responsibilities:

  • Maintain regular appointments with patients
  • Keep records on patients’ medical history
  • Provide guidance on nutrition and exercise
  • Prescribe natural remedies like herbs, vitamins, botanical extracts, and amino acids
  • Treat patients with natural therapies including homeopathy, traditional Chinese medicine, and ayurvedic medicine
  • Promote overall wellness with patient education
  • Focus on human energy healing systems
  • Refer patients to practitioners if traditional medicine is necessary

Who Hires Alternative Medicine Providers?

Whether holistic health, hypnotherapy, or homeopathy interests you, alternative medicine practitioners can find careers in natural medicine clinics, hospitals, and wellness centers. Many choose to go into business for themselves, opening their own clinics and wellness centers.

Additionally, natural pharmacies, research labs, corporate offices, and insurance companies do plenty of hiring. Alternative medicine schools also hire practitioners to work as instructors.

Alternative medicine providers can practice in a wide range of places, such as natural medicine clinics, wellness centers, and research labs.

Training and Education

The type of education you need to work in the field of alternative medicine varies greatly and depends on the line of work you want to pursue. Some fields, like massage, don’t require a degree but rather a license to practice. Massage licensing requirements vary by state. Beyond licensing, you can pursue certification in specialty areas within massage to fine-tune your skills and highlight your expertise.

There are dozens of career types that require bachelor’s or master’s degrees. Dietitians, for example, must hold a bachelor’s degree to practice, while acupuncturists need a master’s degree.

Other alternative medicine careers, like naturopathy, require a doctorate (ND).

Accreditation

School accreditation is similar to licensing in that there isn’t one agency that gives its approval for alternative medicine. You’ll need to do some research to find out which agency oversees the school and the programs you’re interested in. For example, if you’re looking at naturopathic doctor programs, ensure the school is accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME). For those pursuing massage therapy, the Commission on Massage Therapy Accreditation signs off on those degree programs.

Making sure you are enrolled in a school and program that is accredited is important. An education from an accredited program, for example, is usually required before you can be licensed or certified in your specialty.

How Can I Advance in My Career?

person with stethoscope handing red flower to patient

Advancement in your career will depend on which area of alternative medicine you choose. Often, furthering your education will open the door to better jobs and salaries.

For example, if you’ve earned a bachelor’s degree in general alternative medicine, consider enrolling in a master’s program and learn a specialty. If you’re interested in becoming an ND, or even an MD, adding a treatment like hypnotherapy to your services can help you further your career.

Going back to school for an advanced degree may help you move forward in many alternative medicine fields.

If you’ve earned the highest degree possible for your area of expertise, stay up to date with continuing education courses. They will teach you the latest skills and practices in your line of work.

Alternative Medicine Salaries

Actual salaries for providers of alternative medicine may vary greatly based on specialization, location, years of experience, and a variety of other factors. Plus, as you gain more years of experience, you’ll be able to demand a higher salary. Many practitioners decide to open their own practices, allowing them to choose their own rates, hours of work, and site; all of which can greatly influence the amount of money they earn.

One example of a relatively high-paying alternative medicine career is an ND, whose average salary is $75,640, according to O*net. Salaries for acupuncturists, who need to hold a master’s degree to practice, are relatively high as well, while massage practitioners and nutritionists typically earn comparatively less.

How Do Alternative Medicine Salaries Compare?

Compare the salaries of some of the most common careers that use an alternative medicine approach:
Change Location

Average Salary

Acupuncturists and Healthcare Diagnosing or Treating Practitioners, All Other$89,060

Projected job growth: %

Avg Annual Salary$89,060
$42,120 $148,950
Bottom 10%Top 10%
Family Medicine Physicians$213,270

Projected job growth: %

Avg Annual Salary$213,270
$85,590 N/A
Bottom 10%Top 10%
Chiropractors$85,010

Projected job growth: 7.4%

Avg Annual Salary$85,010
$35,290 $147,480
Bottom 10%Top 10%
Dietitians and Nutritionists$62,330

Projected job growth: 11.2%

Avg Annual Salary$62,330
$38,890 $87,360
Bottom 10%Top 10%
Massage Therapists$47,180

Projected job growth: 22.2%

Avg Annual Salary$47,180
$21,810 $80,630
Bottom 10%Top 10%

Average salary information is calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and is based on the 2019 payroll records of business establishments. Actual salaries vary greatly depending on your location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and many other factors. Please note that salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

Career Outlook

Alternative medicine has become a welcome form of treatment for many Americans. Because of this demand, above average job growth is expected for a number of alternative medicine careers.

The employment of chiropractors, for example, is expected to grow 4% from 2019 to 2029, about as fast as the average for all occupations, according to the BLS’s Occupational Outlook Handbook. The aging baby boomer population, which experiences neuromusculoskeletal and joint problems more frequently than younger people, is one reason for this projected growth.

Another alternative medicine career, nutritionist, is projected to grow even faster: 8% through 2029, according to the BLS. And massage therapists may expect even greater growth: The BLS predicts employment of massage therapists to grow a whopping 21% through 2029.

  • 21% increase in employment for massage therapists through 2029

Demand will likely increase as more healthcare providers understand the benefits of massage and such services become part of treatment plans, according to the BLS. Additionally, the number of massage clinic franchises has increased in recent years, offering more affordable massages and opening up the practice to a wider range of customers.

Naturopaths are being equally embraced by those seeking alternative of complementary care. According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, 22 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands currently have licensing or registration laws for naturopathic doctors (NDs/NMDs). This means naturopathic doctors are required to graduate from accredited four-year residential naturopathic medical programs and pass an extensive postdoctoral board examination (NPLEX) in order to receive a license or registration, adding more authority to the practice than ever before.

To work in any career in healthcare, you’ll need to be detail-oriented, compassionate, and a good listener.

As an alternative medicine provider, you should be:

  • Collaborative
  • A good communicator
  • A good listener
  • Open to researching an array of healthcare options

Those working in alternative medicine may also be working with individuals who are exploring their healthcare options, either because they haven’t found relief through the traditional healthcare model or because they prefer a more holistic approach to healing.


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