Complementary Therapies Degrees to Augment Patient Healthcare

RNs Use Acupuncture, Imaging, and Massage

Nurses intrigued by cutting edge alternative medicine are often inspired by the opportunities available in complementary health nursing. Many patients have been shown to benefit when therapies like acupuncture, reflexology, and therapeutic massage are introduced to their care plan. How do you find training for this specialty? And where can complementary health nurses work?

If you think that new world therapies are the exclusive stuff of high-end resort spas, think again. Hospitals across the U.S. have jumped on board the alternative medicine bandwagon. This is not to suggest that the movement is a short-lived trend. There is real evidence to suggest that some patients respond to a carefully planned blend of traditional and new age medicine. Doctors are not the primary providers in this case; nurse specialists are leading the charge.

Types of Alternative Therapies

Alternative therapies that have found general acceptance in the realm of Western medicine are massage, acupuncture, and guided imagery:


  • Acupuncture, a Chinese medicine, has been used for centuries to treat all kinds of ailments and even disease. Acupuncturists use very fine needles that are strategically inserted into areas on the patient’s body. The needles are painless and theoretically used to open up physical energy fields that have become “blocked.” When energy flow is freed, the body may naturally heal itself. Acupuncture has been observed by Western medical researchers to be a verifiable therapy for pain management.
  • Guided Imagery is a type of relaxation or meditation with very specific patient goals. Nurses or therapists assist patients with mental visualization and meditation on a variety of issues of concern in the process of patient care. For example, guided imagery has been proven to help relax patients prior to surgery, relieve hospital insomnia and general anxiety, ease pain and reduce rehab time.
  • Various types of massage therapy have been practiced for thousands of years. Complementary health nurses may recommend a variety, including deep tissue, shiatsu, and Swedish. Exactly what medically founded results massage therapy may have—beyond relaxation and stress-relief—are still in the research stages.

Happy Woman Being Massaged.

Find Training for Alternative Health Nursing

Quite a number of nursing programs now provide some level of training that includes coursework in complementary alternative medicine (CAM). Generally two types of CAM nursing programs exist: those that integrate an alternative health module, or a degree minor; and those that are standalone certificate programs, usually open to nurses that already have BSN or MSN degrees.

Curriculums are NOT designed to turn nursing students into acupuncturists or massage therapists, but instead instruct students in how to integrate CAM as part of a comprehensive nursing modality.

Nurse Massage Therapists and Nurse Acupuncturists

Even though formal nursing programs teach the academic rationale for integrative therapies, there is a population of nurses that actually pursues certification as massage therapists. The National Association of Nurse Massage Therapists actively promotes the professional versatility nurse specialists with alternative therapy licensure on their resumes.

Acupuncture is often construed as a difficult to learn therapy, but an increasing number of healthcare professionals are choosing to become certified. The certifications, administered by the American Manual Medical Association require candidates to have completed a training program in medical or practical acupuncture and have logged a certain number of hours as healthcare professionals.

Complementary alternative medicines will in all likelihood continue to grow in popularity among both patients and healthcare providers. Patients in hospitals and clinics eager for positive reinforcement and relief of immediate symptoms have little to lose if they opt to try an alternative therapy. Medical professionals are encouraged by the growing body of evidence that suggests CAMs have a beneficial effect on many patients’ conditions.


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