Natural Health Degrees: Master's, PhD & Online Course Info

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What will you learn in a natural health program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of a master's and doctoral degree and potential careers.
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Natural Health Master's and Doctoral Programs at a Glance

Originally based on the 19th century theory of health known as vitalism, natural health, or naturopathy, is a part of the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) spectrum. Naturopathic physicians study in specialized schools, learning a variety of healing modalities. Natural health covers specific modalities, or methods of healing, that are part of CAM, ranging from herbalism, aromatherapy and acupressure to hydrotherapy and massage. Statistics on the growth of job prospects for natural health practitioners are not generally available, as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not publish numbers specific to this field.

Master's Doctor of Naturopathy (ND)
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in developing in-depth knowledge of healing modalities for practice or research People who want training and preparation to begin work as a naturopathic physician
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Complementary medicine practitioner (data not available)
- Complementary medicine researcher ($76,000, may require further education - aggregate numbers for medical researchers)*
- Same as master's, and also:
- Naturopathic physician ($80,000 - $90,000)**
Time to Completion 1-2 years full time Four years
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 12-18 courses
- Capstone project
- Roughly 300 credits
- Clinical training
- Thesis (some programs)
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Bachelor's degree with background in the physical sciences
Online Availability Yes No

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures), **Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges.

Master's in Natural Health or Complementary and Alternative Medicine

A master's degree in natural health may focus either on developing the skills necessary for delivering care through complementary and alternative medicine or on research in the field. Master's programs may focus on one specific modality, or may allow students to select a number of electives for study. Research programs focus on evaluating modalities to determine their efficacy through rigorous clinical testing. These master's programs are shorter in duration than ND programs and do not generally have the same clinical training aspects as the longer programs. Entry into these programs requires a completed bachelor's degree, but that degree does not have to be in the field. Some programs are also designed to be complimentary with allopathic medical training for MDs who are looking to broaden their practices.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • These master's programs are shorter in duration than full ND programs, and can usually be finished in two years or less
  • These programs may allow students to specialize in specific modalities
  • Programs do not require extensive supervised clinical hours, and may be better balanced for students who are already in their own practices

Cons

  • As many of the modalities are not generally accepted by the evidence-based medical (EBM, or allopathic) community, insurance carriers in most states are not required to reimburse for natural health treatments
  • Because there is no licensure requirement for natural health treatments in most states, a formal degree as part of training can be costly and unnecessary
  • A lack of a recognized professional organization means that individual programs do not necessarily follow the same training regimen

Courses and Requirements

Coursework for programs varies based on the focus of the individual program. They may focus on practical aspects, or emphasize research aspects. Research programs may also offer options for those completing an ND in conjunction with the master's program. Both modality-related and science-based coursework may be required, as students are expected to learn not just methods and practices, but also the basic science of the human body. Programs may cover such topics as:

  • Homeopathy
  • Herbalism, plant identification and toxicology
  • Physiology
  • Phytotherapy
  • Holistic nutrition

Online Degree Options

Courses offered in conjunction with ND degrees are not offered online, as the ND programs are not offered in this format. Other programs, including those that focus on practical aspects, may be available. Even in programs that offer courses online, not all courses will be available to distance students, so you will want to research the program and communicate with schools in order to determine if programs will match your needs.

Stand Out with This Degree

Students pursuing formal training in these natural health modalities may want to seek out practitioners who have already developed their own practices in order to gain experience in applying these skills in a clinical setting. As clinical practice is not generally a requirement of these master's programs, if you are looking to stand out, then you may want to seek out opportunities to apply your knowledge in a supervised setting. This may be accomplished through your own practice or by shadowing a current practitioner, which can give you relevant hands-on experience.

Doctorate in Naturopathy

PhD programs in natural health are not offered at this time. The professional degree for naturopaths is the Doctor of Naturopathy (ND). Earning an ND degree is a 4-year process that combines training in various healing modalities with some allopathic training. The modalities studied in an ND program include massage and manipulative therapies, counseling, herbal therapies and nutrition among others. In addition to classroom study, these programs generally require 1,200 clinical hours of patient contact.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Training to become a naturopathic physician is extensive and regulated by a professional organization
  • Naturopathic physicians generally start their own practices after graduation
  • ND practice is regulated in some states, and in a couple of states, insurance companies are required by law to reimburse for health services

Cons

  • Naturopathic training programs have become a catch-all for complementary and alternative medical training. Not all modalities follow the same underlying assumptions about holistic health
  • The expense and time commitment required for these programs makes it an unlikely alternative for those who are interested in studying the topic without making it a career
  • The limited number of programs available may require students to relocate

Courses and Requirements

The coursework required for an ND degree is extensive, and graduation requires clinical hours in addition to classroom training. Courses cover a whole range of disciplines, modalities and supportive technologies, including diagnostic imaging, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, childbirth and massage. Programs may also introduce concepts, ideas and practices from related modalities, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Courses may include:

  • Pathology
  • Histology
  • Hydrotherapy
  • Holistic diagnosis
  • Holistic approaches to specific areas, such as ear, nose and throat, oncology, urology, dermatology, etc.
  • Natural health as a business

Online Degree Options

Because the nature of naturopathic physician training is hands-on, requiring learning manipulative therapies and studying herbs, the organization that accredits ND programs does not foresee accepting online training as a viable option for those seeking licensure. These programs are generally full-time, face-to-face immersive programs that require several years of classroom and clinical training.

Stand Out with This Degree

In order to develop the completion of a Doctor of Naturopathy degree into a successful practice, you may want to work with your school to find additional opportunities to expand your clinical training beyond the already extensive requirements. Additional clinical training in a practice setting can help you gain experience in a wider range of the practical aspects, including both business concerns and the everyday ailments that NDs are asked to treat. Some programs have complementary programs that allow practitioners to offer a wider range of treatments, including schools that offer concurrent programs in both naturopathy and TCM.

Degree Alternatives

Students interested in complementary and alternative health modalities may also consider training in acupuncture and TCM, or possibly a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O./O.D.) degree. TCM programs are also commonly 4-year programs focusing on a specific type of CAM, usually including herbal and acupuncture training. Osteopathic medicine training programs are similar in most respects to the training that medical doctors (MD) receive, and have similar entry and residency requirements as well. Osteopathic physicians generally fill the same functions as MDs.

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