Holistic Medicine Schools: What You Need to Know
Now is a great time to get the education you need to succeed and put ancient healing methods into modern practice.
Holistic care is becoming more and more accepted by those who receive—and provide—healthcare services. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that more than half of office-based physicians recommended holistic and alternative treatments to their patients.
As holistic health continues to gain respect and expand its reach, the number of jobs in the field is expanding, too. In fact, The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a massive 21% job growth for massage therapists by 2029, a rate that’s much faster than the national average.
The bottom line: As more people embrace natural healing, the opportunities may grow for holistic health practitioners.
Your search for the right holistic health school will be guided by the type of practitioner you hope to be. Do you dream of dispensing medicinal herbs? Is midwifery your true calling? Some schools offer a long list of degree and certificates for a number of practices while others focus on one or two areas of study, such as massage therapy or acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
Holistic health schools focus on teaching students how to promote wellness through natural methods. Students also learn how to treat illnesses naturally or in conjunction with Western medicine.
A community spirit, diversity, and empowerment are often overarching themes on campus. The notion of the mind, body, and spirit working together is at the core of any school’s curriculum. In some programs, students are also taught business skills so they can work in private practice.
Types of Holistic Health Schools
Holistic health schools share a common bond of educating others in the practice of natural, non-toxic and sustainable treatments. However, each school offers its own approach to teaching based on its mission and aim. Below you’ll find a summary of different types of holistic medicine schools. Which one can help you reach your career goals?
Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Schools
Students can either roll their bachelor’s and master’s degrees into one program or earn a master’s separately. Acupuncture schools also focus on nutrition, tai chi, and qigong. You’ll learn how to incorporate TCM into the Western health care system.
Accredited acupuncture and TCM programs are located throughout the country.
Massage Therapy Schools
Massage therapy schools are widespread, partly due to the career’s growing popularity in mainstream medicine. You can find programs on larger campuses, but smaller schools that focus solely on a massage therapy curriculum are very common. Students may learn different types of techniques, such as sports massage or Reiki, as part of their coursework.
Massage therapy schools are much more ubiquitous than naturopathic doctor (ND) schools. You can likely find one in a city near you.
Naturopathic Medicine Schools
Students enroll in an intensive, four-year doctoral program, which includes clinical training. Their studies encompass just about all treatment methods in the holistic health field, including nutrition and massage. Naturopathic schools may also offer other degree programs, such as acupuncture. A good ND program will prepare you to take the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX).
The program is rigorous and is often compared to the education that traditional medical doctors receive.
“Credit loads are often the same in both programs,” says Jennifer Bennett, ND, LAc, a professor at Bastyr University in Seattle. “There is less of an emphasis on things like emergency medicine, but naturopathic medical students are trained to prescribe pharmaceuticals, do minor surgery, and perform standard laboratory and medical procedures commonly done in primary care medical practices.”
Naturopathic medical students also receive extensive training in physical medicine, nutrition, botanical medicine, and supplement and nutrient medicine, which is often not included in a traditional medical education.
Currently, there are only seven naturopathic programs in North America accredited by the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education. Competition can be fierce, and students often relocate to earn their degree.
Nutrition programs are offered as bachelor’s and master’s-level programs throughout the country. These programs focus on how diet affects overall health with a focus on individual nutrient needs. You might be able to complete your nutrition program online or at a local university.
Some natural health schools focus their attention on certificates, while others have a more robust degree selection. If you’re interested in adding new expertise to an existing degree, a certificate may do the job.
Types of Holistic Medicine School Programs
Here are some popular program types you’ll find at holistic health schools:
Here’s an overview of common training and degree options for a variety of jobs in the holistic health field:
Holistic Medicine Schools Online
Just like allopathic medical schools, holistic health programs often require their students to work in a hands-on environment—especially if you’re enrolled in a massage therapy or acupuncture program. However, if you’ve delayed going back to school because you don’t think you have the time, an online program may be available for you.
Certificates for professional advancement or to enhance a practitioner’s knowledge are offered by some online programs. Examples of these include acupuncture, herbal medicine, life coaching, massage therapy, and nutrition.
If you’re looking for an online degree, complementary alternative medicine, health and wellness, or mind-body transformational psychology might be right for you.
What to Expect
One of the benefits of online programs is rolling admissions, which allow you to start school when you’re ready instead of waiting for a new semester or quarter. This means you don’t have to delay your dreams.
Online holistic health classes use the same tools and methods as other online programs. You’ll interact with professors and fellow students using email and discussion boards. Coursework may include videos, readings and online lectures.
If the program is “asynchronous,” meaning classes aren’t live, you’ll have the flexibility to complete your studies when it’s convenient for you (as long as you meet the due dates). It’s a perfect opportunity for students who are working or have family obligations.
Accredited online programs are designed to help you connect with others. Even if you aren’t meeting face-to-face, you’ll interact with students from different corners of the world. You never know what you might learn from each other.
Licensing and Certification
Not all holistic health careers require a license or additional certification to practice, but many do. You will want to check with your state to find out what is required before you practice.
A holistic health school and its programs should be accredited by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education. This ensures the program meets strict guidelines and prepares students to work in their field.
Look for regional and/or professional education accreditation on a school’s website. For instance, the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education (CNME) gives its stamp of approval to naturopathic doctor programs. Other accrediting agencies to look for:
Since holistic health careers vary in nature, the salaries that you can earn cover a wide range. Acupuncturists can command a high salary, while massage therapists and life coaches may garner a lower wage. A number of factors can affect those numbers, however, such as:
Written and Reported by:
With professional insight from:
Jennifer Bennett, ND, LAc
Naturopath and Professor, Bastyr University