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The Value of Pursuing a Career in Complementary and Alternative Medicine

by May 3, 2017

Home » NUHS Blog » The Value of Pursuing a Career in Complementary and Alternative Medicine


In a world where technology and business are growing, so are chronic disease, obesity, depression, and anxiety. Nowadays, people are searching for ways to improve their quality of life. With interest in fitness and wellness on the rise, the mainstream media has helped spread awareness of how complementary and alternative medicine can be utilized to improve health.

Earlier in 2017, this increasingly popular form of health care received even more attention when the American College of Physicians (ACP) updated its guidelines for low back pain. ACP now suggests alternative therapies that are non-pharmaceutical be used first — such as heat therapy, massage, acupuncture, or spinal manipulation for low back pain. Previously, the association recommended MDs first prescribe medicines, including opioids. With widespread opioid addiction in the United States today, MDs have taken notice. In recent years, they have been reassessing how they prescribe painkillers given their unintended side effects.

Complementary and alternative medicine provides a much less invasive and more holistic approach to the health of a patient, identifying a patient as a whole person rather than simply a collection of symptoms and conditions.

If you are interested in pursuing a career in complementary and alternative medicine, here are four options worth checking out:

1. Chiropractic Medicine: Help Patients’ Pain and Overall Health

Back and neck pain are common complaints among people of all ages, whether it comes from an injury, posture, or genetics. Chiropractors are known for treating patients with issues involving the neuromusculoskeletal system. An April 2017 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association received major media attention after it confirmed spinal manipulation was safe and effective in both reducing pain and improving function.

In addition to spinal adjustments and manipulations, chiropractors also evaluate many different aspects of a patient’s health. By also providing nutritional counseling, physical rehabilitation therapy, and targeted supplementation including vitamins and natural herbal medicines, a chiropractor can help improve a patient’s overall health with long-lasting effects.

Beyond the rewards of helping patients, the field of chiropractic medicine also offers strong job growth and many career options. By 2024, the industry is expected to grow by 17 percent, which according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is much faster than the average for all occupations.

Chiropractic physicians can choose to run their own business or work in a group practice. They can also choose to specialize in a variety of areas including, sports medicine, pediatrics, women’s health, neurology, and more. Additionally, according to the 2016 Chiropractic Economics’ Salary and Expense survey, chiropractors practicing in a solo clinic earned about $121,000. Chiropractors working in integrated offices with medical doctors made about $184,000.

2. Massage Therapy: Improve Wellness and Relaxation

Similar to chiropractors, massage therapists treat people by manipulating muscles and other soft tissues — manually or with medical aids. Massage therapists help relieve a client’s pain and injuries while also improving their circulation, decreasing stress, increasing relaxation, and cultivating overall wellness.

Massage therapy is a collaborative career. Therapists talk with their clients to determine what they want to achieve through massage therapy, and they develop personalized treatment plans to help clients even outside of their appointments. Whether it is relieving tension, pain, or increasing relaxation, massage therapy can be remarkably effective.

Massage therapy can be broken down into several fields: holistic bodywork, healing touch, Swedish massage, deep tissue massage, and Shiatsu (to name a few). Therapists typically specialize in a few forms since each may require mastery of specific techniques.

The field of massage therapy continues to expand, offering solid benefits including competitive compensation. On average, massage therapists can earn $47 per hour, according to the American Massage Therapy Association (AMTA). Massage therapists have a wonderful set of options for employment, making it a versatile and flexible career. Therapists are employed in various places, such as physician’s offices, hospitals, integrative medical clinics, spas, and fitness centers. There is also the option of private practice, where a therapist can work from home with a more flexible schedule.

3. Naturopathic Medicine: Find and Prevent Illness Naturally

It’s a simple concept: find and treat the root of the disease instead of treating just the symptoms. That’s naturopathic medicine in a nutshell.

Naturopathic medicine is a holistic, science-based health care practice that is focused on the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of illness. It is a distinct primary health care profession that combines the wisdom of nature with the rigors of modern science.

Naturopathic doctors are trained primary care physicians who graduated from an accredited naturopathic medical school. With patients of all ages, they work to pinpoint the underlying causes of disease. From there, they identify therapies to help a patient’s body regain and maintain its health. Instead of simply prescribing medications to treat symptoms, a naturopathic physician will search deeper to diagnose and treat on the root causes of illness.

Career prospects for naturopathic medicine are growing each day as more and more people are looking for treatments that will supplement or replace conventional medicine. According to a survey from the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (AANMC), naturopathic medical professionals earn an average of $90,000 per year and have a better work-life balance compared to other physicians in the U.S.

4. Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine: Restore Health and Balance

Oriental Medicine is quite different from other types of alternative medicine in that it is rooted in a very traditional medical philosophy. This field is based on traditional Chinese medicine practices and focuses on diagnosing and treating an individual’s Qi (or chi) energy.  According to oriental medicine, when a patient’s Qi becomes weak, excessive, or blocked, he/she is more likely to contract illness and disease. The goal of the practitioner is to restore health and balance of an individual’s energy.

Acupuncture is one of the five major branches of oriental medicine along with Chinese herbal medicine, oriental nutrition and dietary therapy, tuina, tai chi, and qi gong. Acupuncture uses insertion of sterile needles in specific energy points on the body to provide healing and rebalance.

Career opportunities in this field are growing as more people look for noninvasive treatment options that will improve their overall health. More hospitals and clinics are including acupuncture as part of their integrative medicine programs. The World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes acupuncture and oriental medicine as effective treatment for over 43 conditions including respiratory disorders, chronic pain, emotional disorders, infertility issues, and more.

Pursuing a career in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is rewarding not only because of the growing opportunities in the field but also because you are able to improve an individual’s overall health, prevent illness and disease, and reduce chronic pain with non-invasive, lasting treatment.

By choosing any one of these four career options, you will be able to positively impact peoples’ health through natural, noninvasive methods. And you will be able to do this while earning salaries competitive with other health care careers all while maintaining a better work-life balance. As a practitioner in complementary and alternative health care, you will also be at the forefront of medicine fulfilling the need for natural health care options in our health care system today.

National University of Health Sciences offers all of these programs in complementary and alternative medicine. We hope you’ll consider pursuing one of these careers this year!

Come visit our Illinois or Florida campus any time between May and August, 2018 and receive double the tuition credit ($1,000 for graduate programs and $500 for undergraduate and certificate programs) for your first trimester! This offer is for a limited time only.  Contact the Office of Admissions at 800.826.6285 or [email protected] to learn more!


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About the Author

Teri Hatfield

Teri Hatfield

Teri Hatfield is the Assistant Director of Admissions at National University. She grew up in a small town in south central Minnesota called Lonsdale before heading off to Wisconsin to Ripon College. Afterwards, she attended Olivet Nazarene University and earned her Master of Business Administration. One of her goals is to help students understand their next career choice.


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