Holistic Physicians


Education and Training Requirements

High School

To become a holistic physician, you will have to study for 11 or more years after high school. Preparing for this profession is extremely demanding. Because you'll be entering a premed program in college, you'll want to take as many science classes as possible. Biology, chemistry, and physics will prepare you for college medical courses.

Holistic physicians need excellent communication abilities in order to build successful partnership relationships with their patients. Psychology, English, and speech classes and participation on the debate team can help sharpen your communication skills. Business, mathematics, and computer courses can help you gain the skills you need to be a successful businessperson.

Postsecondary Training

To become a holistic physician, you must first become a conventional physician. In order to do this, you must complete a bachelor's degree and medical school.

At the insistence of many students, conventional medical schools now include courses in alternative therapies, but they are still relatively few in number. There are also a small group of naturopathic medical colleges that are accredited by the Association of Accredited Naturopathic Medical Colleges (https://aanmc.org). As interest in alternative approaches grows, the number of courses available in medical schools will undoubtedly increase. Most holistic physicians train themselves in alternative modalities through special postgraduate work and continuing education. A few graduate schools now offer specialized programs in alternative health care approaches and a very few residencies are available.

Other Education or Training

The Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine, American Medical Association, American Osteopathic Association, and other associations provide continuing education classes, webinars, and workshops. Contact these organizations for more information. 

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories license physicians. To obtain a license, you must graduate from an accredited medical school. You must also pass a licensing exam and complete one to seven years of graduate medical education.

At this time, there is no special certification or licensing available for holistic physicians. A practitioner's decision to use the term "holistic physician" or "alternative physician" is strictly voluntary. The American Board of Integrative Medicine has developed a core curriculum on which it bases its board certification examination for physicians who specialize in integrative medicine. Becoming board certified indicates that an individual has met the voluntary education and testing requirements of the organization. See the board's Web site (http://www.abpsus.org/integrative-medicine) for more information.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Holistic physicians require an extensive medical education and experience in treating patient illness. In addition, these practitioners must be willing to consider a different path to treatment other than conventional medicine. This requires a knowledge of alternative wellness that may include meditation, acupuncture, herbalism, homeopathy, and biofeedback. These physicians educate patients in maintaining their health and stress methods of illness prevention.

To be a holistic physician, the whole-person approach to healing must be an integral part of your belief system and your life. You must have a fundamental respect for the dignity of humankind and a strong desire to help others.

Excellent listening, communication, and observational skills are essential. You also need the ability to make quick and good critical judgments and decisions in emergencies.

Practicing holistic medicine requires an open mind and a commitment to lifelong learning. Holistic physicians must be highly self-motivated and have the stamina to survive long hours and pressures of education and practice. You need to have the courage of your convictions and enjoy trailblazing. Even though alternative health care approaches have become more respected within the medical community in recent years, many physicians still do not accept them. Idealism and high ethical standards are essential. Most holistic physicians also need excellent business skills to run their own practices.