Careers in health care are among the most lucrative and rewarding careers. Within the health care field, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is unique. Compared to traditional Western medicine, CAM seeks to provide a much less invasive and more holistic approach to the health of a patient. CAM practitioners identify a patient as a whole person rather than simply a collection of symptoms and conditions.
More hospitals, clinics and private practices are integrating this type of care into their services by employing both mainstream medical techniques as well as complementary and alternative medicine. This integrated approach involves 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.
In addition to being passionate about this approach, with the high cost of a medical degree, 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.
Growing demand for complementary and alternative medicine practitioners
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. 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 and massage therapy.
It may come as a surprise that currently, 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.
In addition to increased demand for alternative healthcare, the compensation for CAM practitioners is another element of the excellent ROI: health diagnosing and treating practitioners earn a median salary of $74,530. More specifically, chiropractic physicians can earn up to $121,000 per year and naturopathic doctors earn an average of $90,000 per year. Acupuncture and oriental medicine practitioners can also earn up to $120/hr, and massage therapists earn an average of $46/hr, including tips.
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. Fortunately, one of the greatest benefits of a career in CAM is the quality of life that practitioners can enjoy.
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.
Abundant career options
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.
If you’ve been thinking about pursuing a degree in Complementary and Alternative Medicine, you can rest assured that your investment in your education will be worth it. From job flexibility, to excellent compensation, to the ability to know that you are helping your patients not only to heal, but to live better lives, the ROI of pursuing a career in alternative medicine is hard to beat.