Study Natural Health: Associate, Bachelor's & Online Degree Info

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What will you learn in a natural health degree program? Read about degree requirements, the pros and cons of an associate and bachelor's degree, and potential careers.
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Natural Health Associate and Bachelor's: Degrees at a Glance

Natural health programs teach the use of alternative forms of therapy, such as therapeutic massage, aromatherapy, and Reiki, to help promote health and wellness in patients. Accredited bachelor's programs in natural health are rare, but a bachelor's degree program in alternative medicine can provide a similar education, or allow you to continue studies started in an associate degree program in natural health. Some students may go on to find careers immediately after acquiring this degree, while others could use it to complement the skills acquired in a different program, such as nursing or physical therapy.

As demand for overall healthcare increases, demand for alternative care practitioners could also increase. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted that jobs for medical assistants would increase 31% between 2010-2020, and positions for fitness trainers and aerobics instructors, such as yoga teachers, would increase 24% during the same period.

Associate Bachelor's
Who is this degree for? Those who wish to offer basic-level holistic healthcare services, potentially in conjunction with traditional services - Individuals who want to offer natural health services, possibly along with traditional healthcare services
- Those who want to understand a wider variety of alternative medical practices
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Medical assistant ($29,000)*
- Fitness trainer or aerobics instructor ($31,000 - could require certification)*
- Massage therapist ($36,000 - may also require special training, licensure, or certification)*
- Nutritionist or dietician ($55,000 - often requires an internship and licensure or certification)*
- Registered nurse ($66,000 - also requires completion of an accredited nursing program and state licensure)*
- Acupuncturist (salary unavailable - may require graduation from an accredited master's degree program, as well as state licensure)*
Time to Completion 2 years (full-time) 4 years (full-time)
Prerequisites A high school diploma or its equivalent A high school diploma or its equivalent
Online Availability An extremely limited number of hybrid programs are available Extremely rare

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Associate Degree in Natural Health

An associate degree program in natural health can teach you the foundations of human biology and how it may be may be manipulated to improve health. As the field of natural health encompasses both theory and practice, education will likely include a mix of lecture and hands-on instruction.

Courses in this degree program may transfer toward a bachelor's degree in alternative medicine, or potentially toward other medical and health-related degrees, allowing you to bring knowledge of natural health approaches to careers such as nursing or physical therapy. The program may also prepare you for acquiring licensure in massage therapy, as required by your state.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Learn to help people improve their health with non-invasive methods
  • Be involved in a popular and growing field
  • Techniques and knowledge learned could aid you in a variety of medical and therapeutic careers

Cons

  • You may be applying for the same careers as those with high school diplomas or postsecondary certificates
  • Specializing with a 2-year degree may limit career options to one area of potential employment (i.e. massage therapy)
  • Does not directly prepare you for many medical careers

Courses and Requirements

In addition to core basics for an associate degree, the courses you take will cover human health and a variety of methods of improving that health. Some programs may focus on a particular area, such as massage therapy. Other programs could offer a more broad variety of topics, and you may have the option to study additional concepts in natural health, such as:

  • Hydrotherapy
  • Reflexology
  • Aromatherapy
  • Yoga
  • Reiki

Online Degree Options

Online degree programs in natural health are rare, and those programs that you find may not be accredited. You may be able to find a limited number of hybrid programs, which combine both online and traditional coursework. Be sure to carefully research any online options you find. Since many aspects of natural health, such as yoga or massage, require an understanding of body mechanics that is best learned through direct experience, an on-campus program may be your best option.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

One way to stand out with a degree in natural health is with practical experience. While an internship is a common method of gaining practical experience in many areas of study, it may be difficult to find internship opportunities in this field. Those looking for a career as a massage therapist may be able to locate internships, but other specialties in natural health don't offer as many possibilities.

If you can't find internships, investigate volunteer opportunities in natural health with local hospitals and clinics. Many hospitals are offering alternative therapies for pain management, and they often utilize volunteers to provide these services.

Bachelor's Degree

Bachelor's degree programs in natural health are typically offered as degree programs in alternative medicine. These programs typically offer a broad understanding of human health, covering both physiology and psychology. Oftentimes, they're rooted in science, but offer a holistic approach to healthcare. Courses are generally a mix of lecture, to teach general theories of health and alternative medicine, and hands-on instruction, in areas such as therapeutic massage and acupuncture.

This degree does not allow graduates to practice medicine, but it does allow them to offer alternative methods of treatment in a number of settings. These programs can also prepare students for graduate study, in areas such as acupuncture and oriental medicine, which may be regulated in your state. Since these programs offer core instruction in medicine, coursework could potentially allow you to pursue a medical degree.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Use of natural and alternative methods to improve health is becoming more popular, creating many opportunities for careers in alternative medicine
  • Can pursue a graduate degree in medicine and offer patients a rounded set of skills, including both traditional and alternative options
  • Ability to offer a variety of non-invasive treatment options to clients

Cons

  • Degree does not allow you to practice medicine
  • There are very few accredited programs, and a vast number of unaccredited programs, in the alternative medicine field
  • Regulation of alternative medical practice varies widely state-by-state, and some alternative practices may be illegal in some states

Courses and Requirements

Courses for a bachelor's degree in alternative medicine often begin with a grounding in science, including biology, chemistry, and anatomy and physiology. After that, courses in the program may explore a number of topics in alternative medicine, such as nutrition, Chinese medicine, reflexology, and herbalism.

Coursework can be spread across a range of topics, or you can focus your program by choosing elective courses within an area suited to your intended career. For example, if you are interested in offering natural healing options through massage therapy, you might be able to select elective courses in massage, reflexology, or Reiki. At the end of the program, you may be required to complete a capstone course in alternative health before you can acquire your degree.

Online Degree Options

Online programs in alternative medicine are very rare, and a respected institution may not accredit those that you find. Be sure to carefully research and check the accreditation status of any options you find. Since many aspects of alternative medicine require practical experience, it may be best to attend a campus-based program, where you can best utilize instructors' experience to show you how to implement the skills you learn.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

As with an associate degree, an internship or volunteer opportunity can help you stand out with this degree. Contacting the volunteer center at your local hospital may produce a valuable chance at offering volunteer services.

Additionally, seeking certification with a respected group in a particular area of alternative medicine can enhance your career prospects or draw clientele to an independent practice. Not all such groups are reputable, but those that are may improve chances of finding employment. For example, the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) offers accredited certification for practitioners of acupuncture and oriental medicine.

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