"Alternative medicine" encompasses all health traditions and practices that are not part of what we consider conventional, Western medicine.   From acupuncture to chiropractic to naturopathy, these techniques are often called CAMs, or Complementary and Alternative Medicines, because they often are pursued as a supplement or alternative to conventional medical efforts, like chemotherapy or physical therapy.

The health benefits of fields like chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture are hard for even the most skeptical to deny; other fields like naturopathy and herbalism offer traditional herbal and natural remedies, and are often derided by critics who argue that there is little hard evidence for their effectiveness.

However people feel about alternative medicines, they seem to work for some people.  As Shakespeare’s Hamlet famously says, perhaps "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

Alternative Medicine Career Opportunities

Related Careers: CHIROPRACTORS, MASSAGE THERAPISTS, and many other alternative medicine professionals.

Alternative medicine practitioners are largely private practices.   States often regulate growingly mainstream or prominent practices like chiropractic and massage therapy, but other alternative medicine practitioners go without the restrictions (and legitimacy offered) by a formal licensing body.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook does not deal with most alternative medicines, because of the relatively small numbers of practitioners.

More mainstream fields that the BLS does recognize, like chiropractic and massage therapy, are expected to experience healthy growth from 2008 to 2018, greater than the 8.2% expected expansion of the civilian workforce.  The BLS reports that there were 49,100 chiropractors in 2008, and expects that figure to grow by 20% to 58,700 working chiropractors in 2018.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Massage therapists accounted for 122,400 workers in 2008, and are expected to account for 145,600 in 2018:  that’s an addition of 23,200 jobs and a growth rate of 19%.

Projected Growth Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Alternative Medicine Earnings

Earnings vary widely in alternative medicine.  Chiropractors made a median annual wage of $66,490 in 2008, with the middle 50% of the field making between $45,540 and $96,700.  Massage therapists made an hourly median of $16.78 in 2008, with the middle 50% of the field making between $11.36 and $25.14.

Other CAM fields are not as financially viable; many alternative medicine practitioners have second jobs because it can be difficult to make a living, especially for those new to their fields.

Alternative Medicine Skills and Abilities

Since the CAM categorization is an artificial construct, encompassing many very different practices, it’s difficult to generalize which skills are important to alternative medicine practitioners.  Science of one form or another is at the heart of most CAM fields, so a strong science background is often beneficial.

Hands-on practices like chiropractic and massage therapy also require excellent manual dexterity and acute attention to detail.  Most CAM professionals deal directly with patients and the sometimes-skeptical public, so good people skills and communication abilities are important.

Educational Benefits

Educational prerequisites for entry into CAM professions vary widely:  a chiropractor’s required program of study may take 6 to 8 years, while a massage therapist’s may need only 1 or 2 years to qualify for licensing exams and entry-level positions.  Other CAM fields that are not regulated have no entry requirements.

Because of differences in educational prerequisites, educational achievement also varies widely:  according to The Occupational Information Network, a government employment information resource, 97% of chiropractors have a bachelor’s degree or higher.  Massage therapists, on the other hand, are much less educated:  18% reported no formal education beyond a high school diploma, 51% reported some college, including associate’s and diploma-granting programs, and the remaining 31% reported a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Educational Achievement Source: Occupational Information Network

For those fields in which education is a requirement, the educational benefit is clear to see.  In those fields where it is not a requirement, education can still play a vital role by adding a measure of formalized, accredited legitimacy to fields that the public often view with skepticism.

Alternative Medicine Programs Online

Degrees Possible: Diploma, Associate’s, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral Degrees

Alternative medicine programs of all levels and disciplines are offered online.  Because of the lack of regulations for entry to many CAM fields, there is not a strict, national educational regimen required for most fields other than Chiropractic.  This makes it doubly important to do your research when picking an online alternative medicine program:  is the school accredited, and by whom?  Will any credits transfer?  What are people saying about this school in general and this program specifically?

Alternative Medicine Qualification and Advancement

Chiropractors must complete a 6 to 8 year educational program (that is not offered online) to qualify in most states.  Once they’ve entered the field, chiropractors may take a wide range of online courses to enhance their training and credentials.  Massage therapists must generally complete a 1 or 2 year associate’s or diploma-granting program, and pass a battery of certification tests.  Other CAM fields may not have strict requirements for entry to the field.

Many CAM professionals own or eventually buy their own practices.

Additional information

The American Chiropractic Association (ACA) maintains a Web site at http://www.acatoday.org.

The American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA) maintains a Web site at http://www.amtamassage.org.