Alternative medicine, often referred to as "natural healing" or "complementary medicine," is a discipline that covers a wide range of holistic therapies and healing philosophies. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), the field is defined as "a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine."
These practices include a wide variety of helpful therapies, including massage, acupuncture, chiropractic manipulation, and herbology. Many individuals turn to alternative medicine to treat illness, handle chronic pain, and enhance a healthy lifestyle.
In a 2007 NCCAM survey, 68 percent of Americans believed that massage, when combined with traditional therapies, could help treat their medical conditions. Forty-five percent had used some form of alternative medicine. Among the most common alternative medicine therapies used, natural products ranked at the top, followed closely by deep breathing exercises, meditation, chiropractic manipulation, massage, and yoga.
As the field of alternative medicine continues to grow, more individuals are opting for natural healing. There has never been a better time to further your education with a master's in alternative medicine.
Degrees in Alternative Medicine
The master's degree in alternative medicine can open many career doors, but there are other degrees available to you, as well.
- Bachelor of Science in Alternative Medicine. Earning a bachelor's degree in the field of alternative medicine provides a solid foundation for many specialties, including acupuncture, massage therapy, and herbal medicine.
- Master of Science in Alternative Medicine. The Master's degree in alternative medicine not only offers even deeper instruction in your chosen specialization, but is also a requirement for those who wish to enter medical school. The master's program usually takes one to two years to complete.
- Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine. This degree launches students to the top of the alternative medicine field. Whether they choose to become a primary care physician or pursue a related career, naturopathic physicians rely on holistic medicine to drive treatment of their patients.
Alternative Medicine Specializations
The possibilities for specializations in alternative medicine are wide and varied, but all of them have a focus on holistic healing and treatment. The following are just a sampling of options for your alternative medicine career:
- Chiropractic and Osteopathic Manipulation
- Natural Products
- Progressive Relaxation
- Traditional Healing
- Homeopathic Remedies
- Diet-based Therapy
- Tai Chi
- Chelation Therapy
How to Apply for the Master's Degree in Alternative Medicine
Once you have explored the degree options and know which area of Alternative Medicine you want to specialize in, it's time to set about making those dreams a reality. That starts with comparing schools to determine the best Alternative Medicine program for you.
Step One: Find the Best Alternative Medicine Program
When choosing the best master's program, good research is your best friend! When you first begin looking for a good master's program, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by all the options out there. So make a list, and systematically narrow it down. Start with the following criteria:
Choose An Accredited Master's Degree Program
Accreditation is one of the most important aspects of your search for an alternative medicine program. An accredited master's program has been vetted by an independent accrediting body and has passed the test for quality education.
Many employers only recognize degrees from accredited alternative medicine programs. Many schools refuse to transfer credits if the school is not accredited, and your options for financial aid diminish if you opt for a program that has not yet achieved accreditation.
How do you determine a school's accreditation status? Try these steps:
- Start by checking out the school Web site. Most of them have their status clearly stated.
- If the accreditation status is not clear, check the U.S. Department of Education Web site to find a list of accredited schools. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation is also a helpful tool.
- The Council on Naturopathic Medical Education is the accrediting body for naturopathic medical programs in North America, and will have further information on accredited programs.
- WorldWideLearn.com offers a list of accredited schools in one convenient place, and also offers more information on the importance of accreditation.
Choose Your Program Format
Look at your list of accredited programs and note whether they are based on distance education, the on-campus experience, or a hybrid of both. The decision to earn your master's degree through a traditional program or to opt for the online master's degree program depends upon many factors, including your learning style, professional needs, and personal obligations.
The online master's in alternative medicine offers the advantage of flexible scheduling, which comes in very handy for adults who must juggle work and family commitments. Online programs offer the convenience of working at your own pace to earn your degree and easy scheduling that allows you to work from almost anywhere with an Internet connection. As an added bonus, when you earn a master's degree online, you prove to potential employers that you have computer savvy, which can be a strong advantage in a fast-paced world.
Earning your master's degree in alternative medicine from a campus program offers the advantage of campus research facilities, as well as a face-to-face relationship with instructors and peers. The campus program also offers more hands-on instruction than you would find in an online setting.
A hybrid program combines the best of both worlds. Most classes are taken online, but for those courses that require more of a hands-on approach, meeting in a campus classroom is an option.
WorldWideLearn.com explores the format options, helps you decide which is best for you, and then offers a list of both online and on-campus programs that might be a good fit. By filling out an online form, you can also request information on a particular school that seems to suit your needs.
Investigate Program Strengths
Now that you have narrowed the list down even further, consider other criteria that speaks to the unique strengths of each master's program. Consider these factors in determining which degree program is right for you.
- Faculty. Expert faculty speaks to the value of the education you will receive. Look for the names of movers and shakers in the field of alternative medicine.
- Specializations. How many different specializations does the degree program offer? Do they offer targeted courses in the specific area you want to learn about?
- Available resources. How much support will you find when it's time to delve into research? Is there an extensive library system? How about peer support and communication with instructors? The more resources that are available to you, the better.
Learn even more about the schools on your list by delving into further research. These resources are good places to begin:
- WorldWideLearn.com can help you earn a master's degree online by pairing you with the schools that meet your criteria. An easy online form is a quick and effective way to get much more information about the schools that have caught your eye.
- Turn to academic journals that highlight the current news, methods, and research in the field of alternative medicine, and look specifically at those that pinpoint your chosen specialization. The Journal of Alternative and Complimentary Medicine is a good place to begin, as is the International Journal of Naturopathic Medicine.
- School Web sites offer a wealth of information with a few clicks of your mouse. Study each school Web site, and be sure to take notes as you go along.
Rank Your Shortlist by Quality
Another way of cutting down your shortlist is to look at the indicators of quality that surround each program. Consider these factors and then weigh your top schools against one another to prioritize them.
- History and reputation. When was the program established? Does the school have a reputation for providing a thorough education? Talk to former students and instructors about their experiences.
- Graduation and placement rate. How many students graduated from the master's program? How many of them found steady work in their area of expertise? Did the college help them with job placement?
- Program ranking. How do the colleges on your shortlist rank against other colleges in the nation? You can find out: U.S. News and World Report publishes annual rankings of the best degree programs.
- Make a campus visit. If you are opting for campus learning, make a visit to the college to see it for yourself. Take a tour and ask questions. If you plan to earn a master's degree online, speak to admissions officers by phone.
- Ask for statistics. You want cold, hard numbers. Ask the admissions office for the most current statistics on graduation rate, job placement, demographics, and more.
- Keep your ear to the ground. Listen to what you hear from former students, faculty, colleagues, and others in the alternative medicine profession. Word of mouth goes a long way toward telling you what the degree program is really like.
Step Two: Apply to Master's Programs in Alternative Medicine
Once you have narrowed your program choices down to a short list, it's time to begin the application process. In many cases, the following items may be required in order to apply to the alternative medicine program of your choice:
- Prerequisites. You may need a bachelor's degree or an associate degree and equivalent work experience to pursue your master's in alternative medicine. Many programs require scores from the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) as well.
- Application requirements. Each school has its own set of application requirements. Study the application carefully and be certain to include everything the college asks to see. These might include letters of recommendation, test scores, academic transcripts, personal statements, or proof of work experience, among other things.
- Financial aid applications and information. Gather all your financial information and financial aid applications. These applications often take a while to be processed, so fill them out thoroughly, and get them in early.
Step Three: Prepare for Your Alternative Medicine Program
Before classes begin, do your homework! You should be well-versed in the alternative medicine industry before you jump into your first Master's degree course. Here are a few ways to learn more about your chosen profession:
- Attend conferences. Conferences are the best way to network with colleagues in your field. At a conference, you can learn a great deal in a short period of time, and meet others who are just as passionate about alternative medicine as you are.
- Join professional organizations. Not only do professional organizations offer monthly or quarterly journals loaded with the latest alternative medicine information, they also offer conferences, networking opportunities, and of course, current news. Places like the American Holistic Medical Association are a good place to begin.
- Keep up with current news. Know what is happening in your field! Pay attention to current research, innovations, and studies that pertain to your niche in alternative medicine. Current knowledge will help you engage in exciting conversation with your teachers and fellow students.
Master's in Alternative Medicine: What's Next?
Earning your master's degree in alternative medicine proves your commitment to natural healing. By furthering your education and becoming an expert in your field, you are positioning yourself to give treatment to those who are seeking a different path than what traditional medicine has to offer.
As more people turn to alternative medicine and holistic treatments move further into the mainstream, your master's degree can give you the skills you need to step forward into a bright career future.
- Alternative Medicine Degrees by Degree Program Level, Education-Portal
- American Holistic Medical Association
- Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges
- Best Health Schools, U.S. News and World Report
- Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs, U.S. Department of Education
- Guide to College Majors in Alternative Medicine, WorldWideLearn.com
- Job Profile: Online Degree Programs in Alternative Medicine
- National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine
- Quick Stats: Complementary Medicine Use Report, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- The Use of Complementary and Alternative Medicine in the United States, National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine