Health care occupations have expanded well beyond the traditional Western medicine concept of doctors and nurses. Today, a patient might see a chiropractor, acupuncturist or traditional Chinese herbalist. She might get her care from a naturopathic physician who uses both herbs and conventional medicines, or follow up on her physician’s recommendation to see a massage therapist for chronic shoulder pain.
Complementary and alternative medicine, often shortened to CAM, is more likely to use the terms "healing" or "healer" rather than medical treatment and doctor. In some cases, CAM practitioners are traditionally trained physicians and nurses who go back for training in CAM techniques. In other cases, such as with naturopathic physicians, the practitioner is trained in CAM from the beginning. Naturopathic physicians must have a bachelor’s degree and attend a four-year naturopathic medical school. They are licensed to practice in many states, although not all states allow naturopathic physicians to practice.
Chiropractic and Healing
Chiropractors use joint and spinal manipulation to treat musculoskeletal problems. They might also give patients advice about health and lifestyle changes related to diet, exercise or sleep habits. A chiropractor must complete at least three years of undergraduate college work -- the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes most have a bachelor’s degree -- before entering a four-year doctor of chiropractic program. Chiropractors must be licensed to practice in all states, and some states might have additional requirements related to certification or state-specific examinations.
Massage as Therapy
Massage is an ancient tradition in several medical systems, such as the Ayurvedic system and traditional Chinese medicine. The University of New Hampshire notes that massage can loosen tight muscles, promote the release of natural pain-killing chemicals called endorphins and improve drainage from the lymphatic system. Massage therapists typically need a post-secondary certificate, according to the BLS. Most programs last 500 hours, but some require 1,000 hours or more. Most states regulate massage therapists, and may require licensure, certification or other evidence of training and competence.
Ancient Traditions in Healing
Most civilizations or cultures have some form of medical tradition. In traditional Chinese medicine, or TCM, practitioners use meridian therapy, medical massage and herbal medicine. Acupuncture is another TCM technique. A practitioner of TCM typically has a bachelor’s degree, according to Explore Health Careers, and must spend a minimum of three years in a TCM program to learn acupuncture. Complete training in TCM requires an additional year. Ayurveda is an ancient system developed in India. Like TCM, Ayurveda uses massage, herbs and other methods. Ayurvedic practitioners are not regulated in the U.S., but the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine notes that some may have other formal training and be licensed in a field such as nursing. Educational programs for Ayurveda are limited.