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A Guide to Financing a Graduate Degree in Complementary Alternative Medicine

Introduction to Alternative and Complementary Medicine

More and more Americans are seeking integrative medical practices because they employ both mainstream medical techniques as well as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and use a wellness-based model of care, as opposed to a disease-based model of care. Preventative lifestyle changes, low-tech, and low-cost measures are put into place with CAM patients before pharmaceutical or invasive procedures are considered.

What is complementary and alternative medicine (CAM)? In short, CAM treats pain and disease much differently than traditional Western medicine. Rather than masking the pain with pharmaceuticals, CAM offers a long-term and preventative approach, treating the root cause of the pain and/or by stimulating mechanisms that allow the body to heal on its own. This allows for more patient involvement, minimal side effects, and long term wellness. CAM fields include but are not limited to Chiropractic Medicine, Naturopathic Medicine, Acupuncture, Oriental Medicine, and Massage Therapy.

If you are considering a degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM), we understand that it can be intimidating to know where to begin when it comes to navigating the complex world of educational financial aid. We created this guide so that you don’t have to spend valuable time sifting through thousands of online resources; we’ve done that for you! Regardless of whether or not National University of Health Sciences is the school of your choice, we hope that all hopeful CAM students can benefit from this guide.

About National University of Health Sciences

Founded in 1906, National University of Health Sciences (NUHS) is a leader in the growing field of integrative medicine and is respected worldwide for success in balancing healing arts and science, combining broad-scope integrative medicine with patient-centered care. With locations in Illinois and Florida, the university offers programs in chiropractic medicine, naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, oriental medicine, massage therapy, and biomedical science.

NUHS is an established champion of high admission standards, accreditation, and academic excellence for its professions. That’s why students from across the globe choose NUHS to pursue higher education in health care.

NUHS Illinois campus

Why Consider a Graduate Degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

With a degree in complementary and alternative medicine, you’ll be on the cutting edge of the medical field, and in a position to choose from a wide variety of work environments: integrative medicine clinics, private practice, medical spas, hospitals, and more. Not only that, but the career outlook for practitioners of CAM is excellent: for example, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, chiropractic jobs are expected to increase by 12% by 2024, which is a faster job outlook than most.

As conventional healthcare costs continue to rise, more and more people are seeking less expensive alternative treatments that not only relieve current symptoms, but also prevent further illness. Complementary and alternative medicine, because of its preventative, non-invasive nature, is also a more attractive option to those who have been unsatisfied with traditional medical treatments. For example: the current opioid epidemic has led to a decrease in physicians prescribing powerful pain medication and an increase in both patients and physicians seeking the kinds of nonpharmacologic solutions found in complementary and alternative medicine, such as acupuncture, spinal manipulation, massage therapy, etc.

What makes CAM so unique and different from conventional, allopathic medicine?

  • Instead of just treating symptoms, CAM addresses the root cause of the illness and treats the whole person, meaning that changes in habits and lifestyle are recommended before medication or invasive treatment.
  • Instead of the physician playing the role of a medical authority figure who prescribes medication and testing, CAM doctors and their patients work together to find long-term solutions (instead of quick fixes) to health problems.
  • Instead of the “managing symptom/pain” approach to chronic illness, CAM physicians try to bring balance to the whole person: body, mind, and spirit. For many chronic illness sufferers, this means that their symptoms–which have resisted traditional medical treatment — lessen over time.
  • Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach to healing, patients of CAM physicians are given individualized treatment plans and more one-on-one time with their doctor.


Complementary and Alternative Medicine Fields

  • Chiropractic medicine is a comprehensive health care profession that addresses the wide variety of factors that impact human physiology. Chiropractic physicians specialize in natural, non-invasive health care and are trained to use a full range of medical diagnostic tools and a wide array of effective treatment options in patient care.
  • Naturopathic medicine is a system of primary health care focused on the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of illness. It is dedicated to nature’s healing powers and is distinguished by six principles that underlie and determine its practice.
  • Acupuncture is an ancient healing technique that is over 3,000 years old. It is based on the insertion of thin, sterile needles into strategic points on the body that lie along specific energy meridian pathways.
  • Massage therapy, while not a graduate medical degree, is also a career option within complementary and alternative medicine. It offers both relaxation and health benefits. With the correct training, massage can be an adjunct therapy in addressing many health disorders. Massage can also be a stress-relieving choice for people committed to wellness and preventive health care.

Curious to learn more about complementary and alternative medicine? Contact us for more information!

Understanding the Real Cost of a Medical Degree

The rising cost of higher education is old news at this point, but most people would be surprised to find out exactly how much a traditional medical degree costs today. According to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), the average cost of attending public medical school in 2016-2017 ranged from $34,592 for in-state students to $58,668 for out-of-state students. Those attending private schools paid an average of $50,000 a year. While these figures include tuition, a meal plan, and health insurance, they do not include cost of living expenses, which adds several thousand more dollars per year for most students.

Just how much has the cost of medical school changed in recent years?

Between 1984 and 2004, average tuition and fees jumped 165% in private medical schools and 312% in public medical schools. “According to the 2007 Medical School Tuition and Young Physician Indebtedness update, projections showed that graduates in 2033 would be graduating with a debt of nearly three-quarter of a million dollars, putting many physicians in the position of paying off loans throughout their careers” (source).

Compared to the cost of traditional medical school, complementary and alternative medical education is markedly less expensive: the average yearly tuition is $25,000, but can be as high as $35,000.

Regardless of the school and program you choose, becoming a CAM practitioner requires dedication and a serious time commitment. Degrees in chiropractic medicine, naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, and oriental medicine are typically a four year commitment, whereas certification in massage therapy can take one to two years to earn. Not only do CAM students have to take many of the same rigorous science courses that traditional medical students take, they must also learn to work with practitioners from other CAM fields, which means obtaining a broad and diverse knowledge base. Intellectual curiosity, good communication skills, a collaborative spirit, and a compassionate approach to care are all necessary qualities for aspiring CAM students.


The ROI of a Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Degree

If you’re going to spend $25,000+ a year on an education, you need to be confident that the return on your investment will be worth it–especially if you take on debt to finance your degree. Fortunately for those interested in a CAM degree, the career outlook for complementary and alternative medicine practitioners is excellent: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (Source), health diagnosing and treating practitioners earn a median salary of $74,530. More specifically, Chiropractors can earn up to $121,900, Naturopathic Doctors earn an average of $90,000 per year, Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine practitioners can earn up to $120/hr, and Massage Therapists earn an average of $46/hr, including tips.

The demand for alternative methods of health care is on the rise due to the increase in the prevalence of chronic disease coupled with an increased desire on the part of health-conscious Americans for alternatives to traditional Western medicine. Nearly 4 in 10 Americans use some form of complementary and alternative medicine treatments (CAM), according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Consumer demand for alternative health care will continue to grow according to The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) because of “research and changing attitudes about alternative, non-invasive health care practices.” The DOL also forecasts that employment of physicians and other health care practitioners in general will grow faster than average for all occupations, driven in large part by the rapidly increasing older population.

Employment of physicians and other health care practitioners in general will grow faster than average for all occupations, driven in large part by the rapidly increasing older population.” — The U.S. Department of Labor

But career outlook and compensation aren’t the only aspects of ROI to consider: no amount of money can make up for lack of work-life balance or unseemly amounts of job-related stress.

CAM careers often allow you to choose your frequency of patients, offering a more balanced work and personal life. CAM practitioners are also able to spend more time developing a collaborative relationship with patients, assisting them in maintaining their health and promoting a healthy lifestyle. This kind of doctor-patient partnership is highly gratifying for both parties and contributes to the high job satisfaction that CAM practitioners experience.

The flexibility of CAM job options is another factor to consider. Practitioners of integrative medicine have several career options they can pursue, including sole proprietorship, working in private or integrative practices, hospitals, and specialty clinics such as Cancer Treatment Centers of America (CTCA). They can also pursue a career in academics, research, or administration.


Ways to Fund Your Degree

While the cost of a medical degree can be daunting, there are many ways to finance your education that won’t leave you with a mountain of debt on graduation day. Below, we have compiled a list of scholarships, loans, work study/assistantship opportunities, and grants offered to those pursuing a graduate degree specifically in complementary and alternative medicine. We will also link to other sites that are helpful tools in finding lesser-known scholarships and grants.


Federal Loans

The primary source of financial aid obtained by National University students is federal student loans. NUHS participates in the Federal Direct Loan Program whereby students borrow these federal loans through the U.S. Treasury.

Stafford Loans

Amount You Can Borrow:  $20,500 per year of Stafford loans; limit of $138,500 (includes any Stafford loans that you borrowed as an undergraduate). These are fixed rate Direct unsubsidized loans. Each year, Congress sets the interest rate on federal student loans with an effective date of July 1.

Fees: The Federal Government charges a fee of 1.069% of the disbursed loan amount. The fee amount is deducted from the amount that you borrow. This means that the amount of money you receive for your loan will be lower than what you actually borrowed, but you are still responsible for repaying the full amount back.

Repayment: Student loan repayment begins six months after you graduate or become enrolled less than half time.

Graduate PLUS Loans

To qualify for a Graduate PLUS Loan, you must not have an adverse credit history. You have to complete a Free Application For Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) and can request a Direct PLUS Loan at Keep in mind that this is also a fixed rate loan, but has a slightly higher interest rate than the Stafford Loan.

Amount You Can Borrow:  You can borrow up to the cost of attendance as determined by your school, unless any financial aid is received. Unlike Stafford loans, there is no limit.

Fees: You will pay a fee of 4.076% of the disbursed loan amount, which is deducted from your loan principal before your student loan is disbursed and sent to your school.

Repayment: Like the Stafford Loan, repayment begins six months after you graduate or become enrolled less than half time.

Credit-Based Private Loans

Private loans are exactly what they sound like: non-government loans that are issued by banks, credit unions, or other financial companies. Unlike federal loans, private lenders offer both fixed and variable interest rate loans. The catch is that you typically have to begin paying these loans back while you’re still in school, although the payments are lower than those you pay after graduation. These loans are best for those who have a strong credit history.


Federal Work Study (FWS) is a need-based federal financial aid program that helps to subsidize student wages in on-campus jobs. FWS earnings are excluded from adjusted gross income on the following year’s FAFSA, so it is advantageous for a student to have FWS earnings versus regular non-FWS earnings. At NUHS, students are paid according to the Federal Work Study Established Pay Grid and have the opportunity to work in the department(s) that most interest them.



Aspiring CAM students may be surprised to find out that many scholarships are geared specifically toward holistic medicine. You can find a comprehensive list of websites that enable you to search for scholarships online here.

University Scholarships for Incoming New Students
National University offers several types of scholarships to students of all programs. Some scholarships reward academic achievement, some programs recognize Illinois residents or children of alumni, and other programs assist minority and international students.

Institutional Scholarships for Current NUHS Students
National University is proud to offer 34 institutional scholarships, many of which are awarded each trimester. These special scholarships are made possible by the many friends, alumni, and supporters of the University. Each scholarship has different criteria and may be awarded based on an evaluation of a student’s financial need, academic achievement, character, extracurricular participation, or special area of interest.

State Association Scholarships
A number of scholarships are available to students who reside in certain states.

Questions about financial aid? Fill out the form below and someone from our financial aid office will be in touch!

Tips for Filing the FAFSA

To qualify for federal, state, and college financial aid for grad school, you have to submit the FAFSA (Free Application for Federal Student Aid).

While you (or your parents) may have filled out the FAFSA when you were applying to college, as a graduate student, your experience will be different. As an undergraduate student, you had the opportunity to receive federal loans and grants (which do not need to be repaid). Graduate students do not qualify for federal grants, but may borrow larger amounts in federal loans (which must be repaid). Also, the Department of Education considers graduate students as “independent students,” meaning that only your income information (not your parents’) is needed to file.

  • Once you file your FAFSA, you’ll be eligible for various types of federal aid, including:
  • Stafford loans: Most students qualify for these loans.
  • Grad PLUS Loans: You must pass a credit check to take out a PLUS loan.

Unfortunately, interest rates are higher for grad students than for undergraduates, and those interest rates start accruing as soon as you begin your degree. Keep in mind that if you have undergraduate loans that still need to be paid off, you can defer payments on the principal, but still have to pay interest while you are in grad school.

Important Tips for filing the FAFSA as a medical student from National University’s Financial Aid Director, Marc Yambao.

  • Be sure to complete the FAFSA for the correct award year. Double check to ensure you do not accidentally complete it for the wrong year.
  • Research or contact Financial Aid offices to discuss aid eligibility; do not assume that everything will be covered simply because you’ve completed the FAFSA.
  • File early! The Department of Education has updated their application process and document requirements so that students can complete their applications much earlier and have that information be relevant for schools to estimate eligibility.
  • Consider the loans you already have before taking out more. This is an important element to consider and must be done with caution.
  • Be prepared to do some negotiating if you receive less than you need.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Programs at NUHS

Chiropractic Medicine

NUHS has been educating chiropractic doctors since 1906. Our world-renowned professors use modern medical science, evidence-based treatments, adjustment techniques, medical diagnostics and laboratory tests, and never hesitate to refer or co-manage a case with an MD when it would help a patient. In this way, National University provides a broad-scope approach to addressing the whole health of each patient. We believe this approach better prepares our graduates for career success in today’s health care market.

Naturopathic Medicine

National University trains its students to focus on treating the individual rather than the disease and to look for underlying imbalances to determine naturopathic treatment modalities best suited for the patient. We encourage students to apply the six naturopathic principles in action and equip our students with models for case analysis and treatment by taking them further into naturopathic clinical theory. This comprehensive approach prepares our graduates to be exceptional diagnosticians and physicians.


Learning from a master is the bedrock of acupuncture and oriental medicine instruction. That is why National University’s acupuncture and oriental medicine programs incorporate apprentice-style learning with world-class faculty experts and leaders in the field. Our faculty are truly masters in their profession. They hold PhD or MD degrees from China, and several have a background as physicians in Chinese hospitals. You’ll get hands-on guidance and close supervision, allowing you to learn via direct transmission of knowledge and skills from our faculty masters.

Chinese Herbal Medicine

At National University, students get a full immersion in eastern medicine. You’ll study the complete range of traditional diagnostic techniques such as tongue and pulse analysis. You’ll learn point location and correct needle techniques and get rich exposure to oriental healing arts such as tui na, qi gong, moxibustion, and cupping.

Cost of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Programs Degrees at NUHS

Chiropractic Medicine: The Chiropractic program at NUHS tuition and fees cost for the 2017-2018 academic year is about $25,000, which includes tuition and fees.

Naturopathic Medicine: The tuition and fees for 2017-2018 for the Naturopathic program at NUHS are also around $25,000 total.

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine: To earn a Master of Science in Acupuncture in 2017-2018, the yearly tuition and fees are about $15,000.

A note on living expenses: It’s slightly less expensive to live on campus, and costs go down considerably if you live with parents or relatives. In addition to budgeted amounts for tuition, fees, books, and supplies, additional funds for Living Allowances are provided in the financial aid award. The Living Allowance is a fixed amount per trimester based on an average cost depending on the living situation of the applicant. This includes allowances for rent, utilities, food, transportation, and personal expenses. Financial aid funds are to be used solely for educational expenses.