Alternative Medicine Doctorate Degree Programs

Common fields in alternative medicine include acupuncture, naturopathy and chiropractic medicine. Many accredited institutions offer doctorates in these areas, but online learning isn't available. Read on for more information about program options, as well as licensing and certification requirements. Schools offering Complementary & Alternative Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Alternative Medicine Degree Types

Alternative medicine comprises a variety of different medical and treatment practices. For students interested in pursuing alternative medicine, one possible degree is the Doctor of Acupuncture in Oriental Medicine, which places heavy emphasis on the use of herbs in treatment. Another option is the Doctor of Naturopathy Medicine, which is more like a traditional M.D. degree with an added emphasis on natural treatments. Finally, students may be interested in becoming a Doctor of Chiropractic if they are more interested in body alignment.

Types of DegreesD.A.O.M., N.D., D.C.
D.A.O.M. Topics of StudyApplications and uses of Chinese herbs, acupuncture, biofeedback, pain management, treatment planning
N.D. Topics of StudyAnatomy, homeopathy, hydrotherapy, medical ethics, natural childbirth
D.D. Topics of StudyBone imaging, musculoskeletal radiology, joint and nerve mobilization, motor skills assessment, posture adjustment
LicensureDepending on the degree pursued, students can seek licensure after completing a degree program, though rules may vary state to state

What Will I Learn in an Acupuncture Doctoral Program?

If you're interested in becoming an acupuncturist, you'll want to apply to a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (D.A.O.M.) program. You must already have an educational background in the field in order to be accepted to such a program, however. Some programs require a master's degree in acupuncture; others accept an advanced degree in a related science along with a degree or certificate in Chinese herbalism.

Like any advanced degree program involving medicine, acupuncture doctoral programs place great emphasis on applied studies in addition to teaching theoretical concepts. They mandate the completion of numerous credit hours of hands-on clinical acupuncture practice in order to graduate. This requirement is structured very differently from one school to the next.

In some programs, mandatory clinical hours run concurrently with the accompanying lecture concepts being covered in classes. Other programs offer their clinical courses separately from lectures. Either way, the clinical component of a D.A.O.M. degree program is intended to reinforce concepts taught in lectures. It's also an opportunity for you, as the student, to demonstrate your mastery of these skills.

Required courses in acupuncture doctoral programs cover the uses and applications of various Chinese herbs. You'll also learn about the basic tenets of western medicine, including such concepts particularly relevant to acupuncture, like biofeedback. Other topics covered in D.A.O.M. programs may include women's or geriatric health, anxiety disorders, patient assessments, treatment planning, pain management and orthopedics. While exact graduation requirements vary from one program to the next, you can generally earn your degree in two years of full-time study.

What Will I Learn in a Naturopathy Doctoral Program?

As an applicant to a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine (N.D.) program, you'll face several prerequisites for background knowledge and education in the physical and health sciences. Most schools require numerous undergraduate and master's-level credit hours in such areas as mathematics, biology, anatomy and chemistry. Prior coursework in the social sciences is also required, perhaps because naturopathy emphasizes things like stress management and lifestyle changes as cures for medical problems.

The emphasis on the physical and health sciences generally continues throughout naturopathy doctoral program curricula. Required courses in the physical sciences may include anatomy, neuroscience, embryology, biochemistry, gene science and botany. You'll also take several health science related courses, including immunology, psychopathology, medical ethics, gynecology and musculoskeletal orthopedics. Last but not least, in-depth coursework in homeopathy and alternative treatment methods will help prepare you to practice naturopathic medicine. Commonly required courses in this area may include patient evaluation, hydrotherapy, pain management, massage therapy, natural childbirth and Chinese language.

As with the acupuncture programs described above, naturopathic doctoral programs are extremely hands-on in nature. Most course curricula reinforce all theoretical concepts taught in lectures with several mandatory accompanying clinical lab hours. Graduation requirements can generally be fulfilled within four or five years of full-time study, depending on exact degree structure.

What Will I Learn in a Chiropractic Doctoral Program?

As a student in a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) program, you'll get a full education in all aspects of the human neurological and musculoskeletal systems. Program curricula generally require completion of between 225 and 250 credit hours and a yearlong clinical chiropractic internship. The internship is in addition to the mandatory lab hours that accompany virtually every health sciences course in most D.C. plans of study.

Like the doctoral degrees described above, D.C. programs typically require you to have a strong academic background in the health sciences. Courses are heavily focused on the areas of the musculoskeletal system that chiropractors adjust and manipulate in order to provide pain relief or injury rehabilitation to patients. Anatomical and neurological areas addressed in mandatory courses may include the spinal cord, head, neck, abdomen, pelvis and nerves.

You'll also take several courses in chiropractic medical procedures, including bone imaging, musculoskeletal radiology, joint and nerve mobilization, motor skills assessment and posture adjustment. Last but not least, most curricula will also provide you with a background in such relevant business skills as medical billing, chiropractic practice management, marketing and ethics.

Will These Programs Qualify Me for Licensure or Certification?

In most cases, graduation from a doctoral degree program in your chosen alternative medicine field of study will qualify you to apply for licensure or certification - whichever is applicable - to practice your trade. However, a doctorate in any of these alternative medicine fields is not the same as earning an allopathic Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree. The types of licensure or certification and the requirements to obtain them differ from that of allopathic medical licensure. In fact, not all alternative medicine practitioners are legally required to earn licensure or certification before beginning their careers.

According to the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, only 17 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands presently require naturopathic physicians to get licensed. The states that do require it utilize a standardized board examination, which you must pass before being eligible to work in that state ( The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) reports that most, but not all, states regulate the practice of acupuncture. Of the states requiring acupuncturists to possess licensure, many will accept your passing score on the NCCAOM-issued certification examination in order to get your license (

Chiropractors are required to be licensed in all 50 states, reports the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). In order to obtain licensure, aspiring chiropractors must pass either a state board examination or the national one issued by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Exact requirements in this area differ from one state to the next (

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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