Complementary and Alternative Medicine Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a career in Alternative Medicine? Get real job descriptions, career and education requirements to see if a career in alternative medicine is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Career in Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) is an umbrella term for medical and health practices that fall beyond the scope of conventional medicine. Complementary medicine refers to treatment that is used in conjunction with conventional medicine, while alternative medicine is often used instead of conventional medicine.

A pro of considering a career in CAM is that these treatments are becoming more accepted, so more people are willing to seek out this kind of care. However, many CAM specialties are still not covered by he}alth insurance, which may limit your patient base. Additionally, median yearly salaries for CAM fields are lower than those for conventional medical specializations (about $67,000 for chiropractors vs. $189,000 for a family practice physician), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

There are many specialization areas within CAM, but some of the best known ones are chiropractic, acupuncture and homeopathy. Here they are, at a glance:

Chiropractic Acupuncture Naturopathy
Career Overview Chiropractors use manual therapy techniques to alleviate pain. Acupuncturists employ needles and herbs to treat ailments like chronic back problems or migraines. Naturopathic physicians practice natural therapies and prescribe lifestyle adjustments to restore the body's natural balance.
Education Requirements Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) Master or Doctor of Acupuncture Naturopathic Doctor (ND)
Program Length Four years beyond undergraduate education 3-4 years beyond undergraduate education Four years beyond undergraduate education
Certification and Licensing Licensing is required in all 50 states and D.C. Certification available and required for licensing in 40 states States that mandate licensure require NDs to pass a board examination
Job Outlook for 2010-2020 Faster than average growth (28%)* Average growth (10-19%)* Average growth (10-19%)*
Median Salary (2011) Roughly $67,000* Roughly $71,000* Roughly $71,000*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Chiropractor

Chiropractors are mainly concerned with their patients' musculoskeletal system (bones, muscles, tendons, ligaments) and use techniques, like spinal manipulation, to alleviate pain. A chiropractor may work in an individual or group practice. About one-fifth of chiropractors worked part time in 2010, and about 25% worked over 50 hours a week.

Requirements

To become a chiropractor, you'll need to obtain a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree. You might not have to earn a bachelor's degree to enroll in some DC programs, but those may still require 90 semester hours of undergraduate education.

A DC degree includes coursework in physiology, biology and anatomy during the first two years. The second half of the program generally includes supervised clinical experiences. After graduating from a DC program, you must gain licensure in the state where you plan on practicing.

The following are examples of what employers looked for in June 2012:

  • A wellness center in Kentucky sought a part-time chiropractor with a state license in good standing and experience with a personal injury patient base. Knowledge of Windows Office software was desirable.
  • A private clinic in Indiana looked for a self-motivated, energetic chiropractor with experience in business and personal injury patients.
  • A rehab center in Maryland advertised for a full-time chiropractor with great patient communication skills with the ability to see 100-200 patients a week.

Standing out

One way to stand out is by completing a residency that allows you to specialize in areas like neurology, sports injuries, orthopedics or pediatrics. Additionally, you can supplement your chiropractic therapy with other forms of medicine, such as acupuncture or massage.

Acupuncturist

Following a centuries-old form of Oriental medicine based on the principle that the body is fully interconnected, acupuncture practitioners use a combination of needles and herbs to treat ailments.

Requirements

Most schools offering acupuncturist programs do so at the master's level, although some schools offer a combined bachelor's-master's degree. Acupuncture schools must be recognized by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM).

Once you've graduated, you can seek certification by taking the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) test. This certification is valid for four years and, depending on your state, is a requirement for licensure.

Here's what employers in June 2012 were seeking:

  • A wellness center in Pennsylvania advertised for a part-time acupuncturist with 2-5 years of experience. Responsibilities included documenting patient history, conducting diagnostic tests and preparing a course of treatment. A license was required.
  • An Ohio medical center wanted a licensed acupuncturist with at least one year of experience who could handle 2-3 patients per hour. Applicants also required knowledge of acupressure and the ability to accurately diagnose patient problems and design a method of treatment.
  • A California-based national occupational medicine service sought an acupuncturist with 6-12 months of training/experience and a valid state license to practice allopathic or osteopathic medicine.

Standing out

It can be advantageous to have certification, even for acupuncturists in states that don't require it, since patients may prefer knowing their provider has the skill level to meet national standards. Additionally, certification can be helpful in expanding your practice, since health insurance companies covering acupuncture may require that a practitioner be certified.

Naturopathic Physician

Practitioners of naturopathic medicine follow the precept that the body has a large capacity for self-healing. NDs commonly treat diseases, like allergies and respiratory conditions, heart disease, fertility problems, obesity, hormonal imbalances and chronic pain.

Requirements

To become an ND, you need to complete a graduate naturopathic medicine program. Naturopathic programs focus on holistic approaches and emphasize disease prevention as a way to improve overall health while also teaching traditional medical topics. You will also learn about nutrition, botany, acupuncture and homeopathic medicine.

Currently not all states require that NDs be licensed, but those that do mandate that NDs pass the NPLEX postdoctoral board examination, administered by the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Examination Board, in order to obtain licensure. NDs in license-requiring states also need to meet annual continuing education criteria to maintain their license.

Here are a few employers who were seeking naturopathic physicians in June 2012:

  • A cancer treatment center in California wanted a naturopathic physician who could provide complementary therapy to decrease the side effects of cancer treatment. ND needed a valid state Naturopathic Physician license and at least one year of relevant experience in Ayurvedic medicine. Knowledge of homeopathy and biofeedback was also desirable.
  • A private clinic in Oregon sought a naturopathic physician with a strong work ethic to join a young practice.
  • A natural medicine center in Alaska needed a naturopathic physician or licensed acupuncturist to join a practice that focuses on women's health, pediatrics and homeopathy.

Standing Out

Because naturopathic medicine is about balancing traditional practices with modern medical knowledge, knowledge in areas like homeopathy, herbology, nutrition and exercise science can help you build a varied range of tools with which to treat your patients.

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