Alternative Medicine Majors Guide

What Does it Mean to Study Alternative Medicine?

The world of alternative medicine is vast, ranging from Chinese medicine to massage therapy. Unlike most Western medical practices, alternative medicine practitioners do not prescribe drugs or perform surgery, instead relying on herbal remedies and holistic procedures such as acupuncture and massage.

The basic foundation of alternative medicine is simple: bring harmony to the body, mind and spirit in order to promote health. The practice of balancing the body’s natural energies can be found in the healing traditions of the Chinese, Indian and Native American cultures. The basic tenets of alternative medicine include:

  • A belief in the harmony of mind, body and spirit to promote good health and wellness and to prevent illness.
  • Treating the symptoms of a disease does not cure the disease. The root of the illness must be addressed in order to create an effective treatment.
  • Preventing an illness through a healthy lifestyle is better than treating one.
  • The doctor is an educator who teaches patients how to lead a healthy lifestyle and take care of themselves, identifying and helping to remove obstacles to good health.

Practitioners in the field of alternative medicine concentrate on illness prevention as much as illness treatment. They counsel their patients on lifestyle changes that might help them to decrease the risk of illness. Once the patient begins to identify the environmental, emotional and physical problems that exist within and without, and how these things relate to one another, he or she can begin to live a life that is conducive to optimal health.

There are many fields of alternative medicine available for study in traditional college or institute settings, as well as in online health degree programs. These include:

  • Chinese medicine
  • Acupuncture
  • Massage therapy
  • Herbal medicine
  • Naturopathic medicine
  • Indian Ayurvedic medicine
  • Homeopathic medicine
  • Yoga

Before entering an alternative medicine college degree program, it is important to take a close look at yourself and at the demands of the program to see if this path is the right one for you. An effective practitioner of alternative medicine views the body holistically, maintaining an open mind about the possible sources of an illness or condition. This is not a job for the stubborn or inflexible.

Alternative medicine practitioners must be able to talk candidly and openly with their patients about very personal information. Therefore, these healers must be extraordinarily sensitive and compassionate in order to make the patient feel as comfortable as possible. Getting a patient to open up and relate personal details can also be a long process, so patience also plays a very important role.

As with all medical professions, the field of alternative medicine involves a rigorous and demanding course of study — it’s not Med School Lite. The amount of information to be absorbed can be, at times, overwhelming. Before entering a degree program in alternative medicine, students should examine how committed they are to the pursuit of this goal.

Types of Alternative Medicine Degrees

There are many different majors, certificates, and degrees available to those who wish to practice alternative medicine. Different programs differ in focus and the level of commitment required.

Certificate Programs

More and more often, busy students are taking certificate courses online, through accredited universities and distance learning centers. These programs allow for maximum flexibility while the student continues his full-time job or takes care of a family. Certificate programs are a good choice for those wishing to begin study or further their knowledge of alternative medicine. While many of these programs are simply introductory programs, many others are designed for working practitioners of Eastern medicine who wish to specialize in a particular area of study, such as acupuncture or yoga. Examples of common certificate programs include:

  • Massage Therapy
  • Holistic Health
  • Herbal Medicine
  • Oriental Body Therapy
  • Yoga Instruction

Bachelor of Science Degrees

Bachelor’s degree programs in alternative medicine may include courses of study in acupuncture, Chinese medicine, physiology and various body therapy disciplines. Most of these programs focus on basic science and rudimentary holistic skills. Specializations exist for Chinese medicine, acupuncture and Oriental medicine, general complimentary and alternative medicine, Ayurvedic physiology and health, herbal science, and more. Many students of alternative medicine who choose not to continue their schooling past this level go on to pursue entry-level or assisting careers in chiropracty, acupuncture, physical therapy or rehabilitation.

Online Degrees

If you face obstacles to attending a traditional degree program, then perhaps a distance education program from an accredited online university is right for you. These class schedules are often very flexible and require little to no travel. And, if you are unsure of where you would like to focus your studies, online courses offer different levels of intensity in order to fit your needs.

What Can You Do With a College Degree in Alternative Medicine?

Depending on level of education earned, there are a variety of careers in alternative medicine a graduate might be able to choose from. Here are some examples of potential careers in alternative medicine:

Massage Therapist

Whether practicing privately or working for a spa, gym or physical therapy clinic, massage therapists administer soothing, healing treatments on an individual basis. They base their choices of massage techniques on interviews with the client, using the client’s preferences and reactions to guide their treatments.


Acupuncture involves the use of needles to stimulate specific points on the body. As a result, patients achieve a balance of the physical, mental and emotional. They also perform moxibustion and cupping, depending on the needs of the patient. These needs are determined by an interview process, which demands the acupuncturist be sensitive, understanding and perceptive.


Herbalists grow, harvest, dry and blend herbs that work in conjunction with one another and with the body to restore balance and harmony to the patient’s system. Herbalists can have careers in retail, agriculture or consulting.

Alternative Medicine Certification and Licensure

Practitioners of alternative medicine must typically be licensed by the state in which they reside before they can begin to practice legally. Licensure requirements vary from state to state, and some states do not as of yet offer licensing in alternative medicine. Licensure is also necessary in order to be accepted to a doctoral program in alternative medicine.

Some schools offer licensing as part of the educational process, making it easier for students to transition from an educational environment to a clinical one. When selecting a degree program, it is wise to ask if they offer licensure, as it may make your alternative medicine path easier if they do.

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