Finding the right work

If you’re thinking of joining the healing professions, but traditional medicine doesn’t appeal, an alternative health care career may be right for you.


Does all the back-to-school chatter have you thinking about your own future?

We’ve put together a selection of the most popular alternative health care career options. Many schools have enrollment deadlines throughout the year, so get inspired and then get studying!

Alternative health modalities operate around the principle that the body has an innate ability to heal itself. Symptoms often point to a larger issue in the patient and that is what practitioners aim to treat.

chiroChiropractic was developed in the United States by a man named D.D. Palmer in the late 1800s. Chiropractors treat the musculoskeletal system and, by extension, the associated neurological system using physical manipulation of the spine and soft tissue work. It is a hands-on career that provides a non-invasive alternative treatment for common ailments such as mobility issues, pain, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome and even conditions like asthma.

Prerequisites: 3 years university
Cost: $25,000 (approx.)
Duration: 4 years

doulaDoulas are non-judgemental advocates for pregnant women who support both parents whether the birth is at home or in hospital. The original meaning of the term “doula” is “a woman who serves,” but today doulas can be men or women. The doula provides physical, emotional and informational support, as well as an objective perspective for the parents. A doula’s role is to ensure the birth experience is a positive memory for the mother. They do not give out medical advice or do examinations.

Prerequisites: Be 18 years of age
Cost: $400 to $700
Duration: 6 months to 2 years

Holistic nutrition
holisticnutPoor nutrition is a significant contributor to health issues such as heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Also, many people live with food allergies and intolerances that can cause symptoms such as fatigue, eczema and headaches. Holistic nutritionists help clients achieve optimal health through nutrition. They educate clients about high quality, fresh, whole, unprocessed foods as the foundation of a healthy body and mind. They also help clients reach their nutrition goals with meal planning, grocery store tours and even cooking classes.

Prerequisites: High school or equivalent
Cost: $5,000 to $7,000
Duration: 1 to 2 years

homeoHomeopathic treatment is based on two principles: “Like cures like,” meaning a micro dose of a substance that creates symptoms similar to that of the disease is curative; and the “law of minimum dose,” the idea that the more diluted a sub-stance, the more potent its effects. Homeopathic medicines are diluted plant, mineral or animal materials, and usually come as tiny sugar pellets that are dissolved under the tongue. The idea is to stimulate the body’s inherent ability to cure itself.

Prerequisites: High school or equivalent
Cost: $27,000 to $29,000
Duration: 3 years

Massage therapy
massageUsing touch and muscle manipulation, massage therapists relieve tension, pain and help heal injuries in their clients. Besides massage techniques, therapists study anatomy, neurology, kinesiology and therapeutic exercise. As one of the oldest healing traditions, there are many specializations in massage therapy. Swedish relaxation, sports massage and the yoga-like Thai massage are just a few.

Prerequisites: High school or equivalent
Cost: $16,000 to $35,000
Duration: 18 months to 3 years

naturopathyA naturopathic doctor (ND) provides a holistic approach to primary care. Their job is similar to a medical doctor’s but blends traditional approaches with modern scientific knowledge. An ND studies a cross section of alternative therapies such as homeopathy, acupuncture, nutrition and physical medicine, but does not do surgery or prescribe drugs. Common conditions an ND would treat include allergies, chronic pain, digestive issues, hormonal imbalances, obesity, respiratory conditions, heart disease, fertility problems, menopause, adrenal fatigue, cancer, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

Prerequisites: An undergraduate degree from an accredited institution.
Cost: $22,000 (approx.)
Duration: 4 years

osteoOsteopathy promotes the body’s ability to self-heal by optimizing the flow of bodily fluids such as blood, lymph, synovial fluid, digestive juices and cerebro-spinal fluid, which carry crucial nutrients and waste around the body. Osteopaths assess clients for physical injury and emotional patterns, such as unconsciously holding the breath, which cause blockages. They use gentle manipulation to encourage the body to return to its original dynamic state.

Prerequisites: Healthcare-related university degree or licence in a regulated healthcare profession (e.g. massage therapy).
Cost: $41,000 to $48,000
Duration: 3 to 6 years

Traditional Chinese medicine
tcmTraditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is ancient and complex. Practiced for between 2,000 and 5,000 years, it encompasses a number of modalities including acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, energetics, tai chi, qi gong and nutrition. In TCM, health is understood through concepts such as yin and yang, qi energy and meridians. The premise of TCM is that the body has the potential to heal itself with proper support.

Prerequisites: High school to 2 years university
Cost: $46,000 to $49,000
Duration: 4 to 5 years

herbalismAlso known as phytotherapy, herbalism is the study of medicinal plant remedies, typically native to Europe and North America, for use in healing and preventing illness. Herbalists treat ailments with botanical medicines in the form of tinctures, teas, decoctions, syrups, balms and poultices. It is unlicensed in Canada but there are professional associations you can apply to for increased legitimacy in the field.

Prerequisites: High school diploma or equivalent
Cost: $1,000 to $28,000
Duration: 4 months to 4 years

Alternative vs. integrative vs. complementary
A medical or health treatment used in conjunction with conventional western medicine is called “complementary.” If it is used instead of conventional medicine, it’s called “alternative.” “Integrative” medicine is similar to complementary but more specific. The integrative approach takes the most scientifically proven medicines from both conventional and alternative therapies.

Photography credits:
Chiropractic: © CAN STOCK PHOTO INC. / AMBRO
Traditional Chinese Medicine: PHOTO: © ISTOCK / GLOBALSTOCK

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