How to Become an Alternative Medicine Practitioner

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

sheila cain

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

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.

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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

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.

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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).


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.

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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…

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