What Is Alternative Medicine?

'Alternative medicine' is a general term that covers medical practices that aren't considered mainstream, but are believed to have some beneficial purposes. Common types of alternative medicine include chiropractic, acupuncture, herbal medicine, and some types of massage. Read on to learn more about this field. Schools offering Complementary & Alternative Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Alternative Medicine

Alternative medicine is made up of a variety of medical practices that have not yet become part of conventional medicine. Professionals who have earned a Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathy (D.O.) degree practice conventional medicine. Most forms of alternative medicine stem from a combination of traditional medical practices, spiritual beliefs, and folk medicine.

While much of this medicine has been practiced and refined over centuries, it's only recently that alternative medicine has obtained widespread interest on the part of both patients and medical practitioners. Many medical practitioners refer to alternative medicine as complementary medicine, since it's often used to complement more accepted and modern medical practices. When alternative medicine is combined with conventional medical techniques, it's called integrative or integrated medicine.

Important Facts About This Occupation

Work Environment Office setting, at-home businesses
Key Skills Medical training and knowledge, personable with patients, informed in the field of homeopathy
Similar Occupations Doctors, pharmacists, physical therapists
On-the-Job- Training Internships, working one on one with patients

Common Alternative Medicine Types

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is a government agency that performs research in the field. NCCAM groups alternative medicine practices into the following categories:

  • Systems of Whole Medicine: Ayurveda, Chinese medicine or homeopathic medicine
  • Mind-Body Medicine: prayer or cognitive-behavior therapy
  • Biologically-based: herbs or vitamins
  • Manipulative Body-based: chiropractic or massage
  • Energy Medicine: Reiki (biofield therapy) or bioelectromagnetic therapies (magnetic, AC or DC fields)

Learning More about Alternative Medicine

There are completed scientific studies involving various alternative medicine practices, and some studies are still ongoing. A good place to start looking for the results of these studies is the NCCAM website. The site features research and advice about various therapies, as well as information on alternative medicine practitioners and sources for training in the field. One may also call the NCCAM Clearinghouse (1-888-644-6226) to ask specific questions or to locate publications.

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