Master of Natural Health for careers in alternative medicine

By Gina Pogol

Alternative medicine: It's not your Dad's medicine. The Master of Natural Health degree, also called the Master of Science in Natural Health, can provide a foundation to enter a variety of careers in fields like midwifery, herbal science, acupuncture, Asian medicine and nutrition. The National Institutes of Health studies the use of complementary and alternative medicine, or CAM, and it reports that the general public is becoming more knowledgeable about such naturopathic and natural therapies.

Coursework and requirements for Master of Natural Health programs

To be admitted to Master of Natural Health degree programs, applicants must typically have completed a bachelor's degree and taken undergraduate classes in chemistry, biology, physics and the humanities. There may also be GPA and test score requirements to meet. The traditional or online Master of Natural Health degree program generally requires 36 to 60 credit hours over a two- to four-year period, depending on the school and student's incoming credits and placement.

Coursework varies between campus-based and online Master of Natural Health schools, but generally includes familiar science classes such as these:

  1. Human anatomy and physiology
  2. Clinical biochemistry
  3. Clinical nutrition

Students may also find a curriculum featuring classes like these:

  1. Homeopathy
  2. Botanical medicine
  3. Nutritional assessment and counseling
  4. Physiotherapeutic modalities
  5. Body/mind integrative studies

In addition, students may be required to submit a thesis and/or attend a practicum. The practicum is a course designed to give Master of Natural Health degree candidates supervised practical experience, applying what they've learned in class. Those who wish to practice acupuncture, for instance, learn about release points and energy pathways on the body and how to safely and effectively use filiform needles. To practice acupuncture, a natural health professional must obtain a state license. Internships and mentorships are a common part of training in this field.

The Master of Natural Health online

Relatively few natural health master's programs are taught 100 percent online. While natural health science can be taught via the Internet, the practical application of the theory is learned under the supervision of an instructor, according to the Council on Naturopathic Medical Education, or CNME.

Further graduate education in Natural Health

Graduates of schools accredited by the CNME can continue their education with a Doctor of Naturopathy or ND degree. Students aspiring to an ND program should consider CNME accreditation when choosing among online natural health programs. According to a 2010 NIH article, licensed NDs can practice in Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Career choices

Depending on the focus of the traditional or online Master of Natural Health degree, a graduate may find work in a medical practice, helping patients with herbal remedies or nutritional counseling. A graduate might also set up shop as a midwife or acupuncturist or take up natural health or holistic consulting. Those who complete Master of Natural Health programs may need to pass additional tests and obtain licensing, depending on state laws. Here is an overview of some possible career paths:

  • Herbalists treat conditions like high cholesterol, insomnia, allergies, digestive issues and hypertension by extracting healing compounds from plants and using them to heal patients. Salaries range between $30,000 and $120,000 per year according to the American Herbalist Guild; health store employees earn the least while salespeople and self-employed consultants earn the most.
  • Organic nutritionists work in many of the same places that dietitians do, for example, weight loss clinics, community agencies, medical groups and hospitals. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, dietitians and nutritionists earned between $33,330 and $75,480 in 2010, with a mean annual wage of $54,340.
  • Acupuncturists treat patients by needling and manipulating points that affect the various organs and body systems. The theory is to use these needles to stimulate, invigorate and revitalize the vital energy that flows through the body. The BLS does not report this specialty's earnings, but it estimates a mean salary of $52,580 in 2010 for the general category of "other health care practitioners," which lists examples such as herbalists and acupuncturists.

The NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that Americans spent over $30 billion in 2007 on treatments like herbal supplements, acupuncture and homeopathic therapies. A Master of Natural Health degree can position graduates to care for those seeking such alternatives to traditional medicine.

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