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Complementary and Alternative Medicine Overview

Overview

For more information on careers in this field, see the list on the right. For salary ranges, schooling requirements and more, check out the Career Explorer.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) defines complementary and alternative medicine as a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional Western medicine. 

In general, complementary and alternative health care practitioners take a holistic approach to patient care; that is, the patient is seen and treated as a whole person, not just a set of symptoms.  They also tend to be strongly prevention-oriented and place a high value on the body's natural ability to heal itself. 

Complementary and alternative health care professions also often incorporate low-tech, hands-on techniques, many of which can be traced to long-established (sometimes even ancient) traditions.

While some scientific evidence exists regarding certain complementary and alternative therapies, for most there are key questions yet to be answered through well-designed scientific studies -- such as whether particular therapies are safe and whether they work for the diseases or medical conditions for which they are used.

What is considered to be complementary and alternative medicine changes continually, as therapies that are proven to be safe and effective are adopted into conventional health care and as new approaches to care emerge. ExploreHealthCareers.org will focus on only those complementary and alternative health care professions that already are being used in conventional health care or are relatively common adjuncts to conventional care.

For more information on the field of complementary and alternative medicine, see the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine website.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine is the official journal of the Society for Acupuncture Research. It publishes observational and analytical reports on treatments outside the realm of allopathic medicine, including clinical care concepts and case reports. The readers of this publication are largely health care professionals and scientists who are interested in integrating complementary and alternative therapies into their patient care protocols and research strategies.