Herbal Therapist Careers: Salary Information & Job Description

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What are the pros and cons of an herbal therapy career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming an herbal therapist is right for you.
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The Pros and Cons of an Herbal Therapist Career

Herbal therapists strive to improve or manage various health conditions by using herbal formulas, but if you want to become an herbal therapist who can legally practice in the U.S., you'll also need to be trained as an acupuncturist. Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons to help you decide if this is the career for you.

Pros of an Herbal Therapist Career
Variety of work settings (private practice, shared health clinic, hospital)*
Variety of career options (practicing acupuncture and herbal therapy, research, teaching, sales)*
Flexible work schedule*
Helping sick people get well can be rewarding*

Cons of an Herbal Therapist Career
Acupuncture was illegal in 6 states as of 2011, making herbal therapy unregulated also**
Few not-for-profit schools that teach herbal therapy are accredited by a federally recognized agency (8 total schools)****
Licensure is required***
Continuing education is required to maintain licensure*****

Sources: *University of Bridgeport, ** National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, ***U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ****National Center for Education Statistics, *****Multiple state's acupuncture boards.

Essential Career Information

Job Description

As an herbal therapist, you would strive to improve or manage various health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes, using herbal formulas. Herbal therapy can legally be practiced by acupuncturists in most states, so you would likely provide both treatments in your practice. In contrast to traditional Western medicine, which focuses on symptoms, herbal therapists and acupuncturists who practice Oriental medicine tailor the treatment for each individual. Your goal is to treat your patients holistically to and achieve a state of balance.

When evaluating patients, you would search for the cause of the medical problem and develop a treatment plan that addresses both that source as well as the symptoms that branch out from the underlying cause. With knowledge of over 300 Chinese herbs, you might prescribe (and create yourself) teas, powders, tinctures, poultices or pills. Depending on the formula you decide is best, you might be using the roots, stems, leaves and/or seeds of plants. In many cases, you'll work with raw plant material, but other times you may need to first dry and cook it.

Salary Information and Job Outlook

According to Payscale.com in July 2015, most licensed acupuncturists earned an annual salary that ranged anywhere from around $29,000 to $103,000. These figures varied according to location, with acupuncturists in Los Angeles, Seattle, and Chicago earning the highest salaries.

The most recent statistics compiled for the job growth of other health diagnosing and treating practitioners, which includes acupuncturists, was projected to be between 8-14% (an average rate) from 2012-2022, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Although there aren't a lot of acupuncturists, demand for their services was expected to increase since people are becoming more health conscious and insurance companies are starting to cover alternative treatments, like acupuncture and herbal therapy.

Requirements

Education

You can receive your training through a graduate certificate, master's degree or doctoral degree program. If you're already a licensed acupuncturist, you can enter a graduate certificate program in Chinese herbology to add this knowledge to your expertise. With a bachelor's degree, you could enroll in a Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine program. Some schools may even offer combined bachelor's/master's programs. Next, you could earn a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine degree.

Programs typically include courses in traditional Chinese medicine diagnosis and pathology, human anatomy, needle techniques, herbology and nutrition. Regarding the herbal therapy component: you'll learn about the properties of herbs, preparation techniques, proper dosages and contraindications. Clinical work is another important part of your training.

Licensure

Acupuncture and herbal therapy aren't legal in every state, but where they are legal, a state license is required to practice. Although the requirements for licensure vary, most states require candidates to pass an exam given by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). The NCCAOM offers a certification for acupuncture and a separate certification for Chinese herbology. Some states will only grant licenses to graduates of a school accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM), which is recognized as an accrediting body by the federal government. Continuing education courses every few years is typically necessary to maintain licensure.

Important Qualities

If you want to pursue a career as an herbal therapist who practices acupuncture, you'll need to have the following abilities and skills:

  • Customer service
  • Knowledge of psychology
  • Inductive and deductive reasoning
  • Decision making
  • Counseling
  • Social perceptiveness
  • Finger dexterity
  • Near vision

Job Postings from Real Employers

Employers typically want to hire acupuncturists who have completed a college program in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) or acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM). Job postings for acupuncturists commonly list the type of work the candidate will perform. Following are actual positions for acupuncturists that were open in April 2012:

  • A medical therapy center in Los Angeles was looking for a full-time acupuncturist to prepare herbal medicines and treat patients with acupuncture. Candidate must be licensed acupuncturists with a master's degree in AOM.
  • A Chinese medicine clinic in Nashville was seeking a full-time medical professional to manage the clinic. Five years of related experience in addition to knowledge of herbal therapy and TCM were required.
  • An acupuncture and massage clinic in Texas was looking for an acupuncture intern. Candidates must be graduatea of a college program in TCM or students close to graduation.

How to Get an Edge in the Field

You should choose a school that has been accredited by ACAOM, since it's the only federally recognized organization that accredits schools for acupuncture and Oriental medicine. Since state licensure often requires graduation from an ACAOM-accredited school, you will be able to obtain licensure in more locations, subsequently opening up more career options.

Joining a national association, such as the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, or an association in your state (for example, the Acupuncture Society of New York or the California State Oriental Medical Association) offers benefits that can help improve your practice. Patients who want to be treated with herbal therapy and acupuncture can visit the websites of these associations to find a practitioner in their area, so association membership is one way to drive clients to your practice. Membership in a professional association also offers other benefits, including discounts on products and educational resources.

Alternate Career Paths

Naturopathic Doctor

If working in holistic medical care is something that interests you, but you'd like to have a more extensive medical background and to know a broader range of treatments, consider becoming a naturopathic doctor (ND). With a bachelor's degree and some relevant holistic or medical experience, you can enter a 4-year Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine program. You'd study biomedical concepts, but your training would place emphasis on preventative, integrative and holistic treatments, so you would also study Oriental medicine, plant-based medicine and mind-body techniques. Upon graduating, you can take the Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam; several states recognize licensed NDs. Other than becoming a primary physician, you could also work in research, consulting or education.

NDs would also fit into the BLS category of other health diagnosing and treating practitioners, so job outlook is the same as that for acupunturists (19% expected growth - an average rate - between 2010 and 2020). However, you have the chance to earn a bit more than you would in herbal therapy and acupuncture. The majority of naturopathic doctors made between about $25,000 and $170,000 yearly, per Payscale.com as of May 2012.

Registered Nurse

If you are interested in the medical profession, but would prefer to pursue a career with better job prospects and less formal education, you may want to become a registered nurse. You would care for patients by administering treatments and medications, operating medical equipment and performing diagnostic procedures. You would observe your patients' conditions, maintain records and teach patients how to deal with their medical conditions. Supervising nursing aides and licensed practical nurses may be another part of your job.

After graduating from a diploma, associate's degree or bachelor's degree nursing program, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses to receive your nursing license and being practicing. According to the BLS, registered nurses earned a mean annual wage of around $69,000 in 2011. The job prospects for registered nurses are good, with the number of jobs projected to increase by 26% between 2010 and 2020, which is a faster than average rate.

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