Be Part of the Healthcare Solution: Switch to a Career in Integrative Healthcare
Integrative healthcare is the future of healthcare.
“Integrative healthcare emphasizes hearing the patient’s entire story,” says Northwestern Health Sciences University’s Michele Renee, DC, MAc. “And that helps determine the best course of action.”
Integrative healthcare takes professions such as massage therapy, acupuncture, and chiropractic care and bridges them with mainstream Western medicine (such as treatment you’d typically receive at a hospital or primary care clinic). By doing this, a patient is better served because no single discipline has all the answers.
In addition, “By bringing these various healthcare professions together, you place value on each patient’s preferences and experiences,” Renee says.
Future healthcare practitioners who are being trained in areas like chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy are going to be on the front lines of this new and better way to do healthcare.
“They’re also going to have the advantage of an expanding job market and more opportunities than ever to shape their own career paths,” Renee says.
Why the current system needs to change
When healthcare practitioners aren’t working together – when that bridge is absent – a patient isn’t well served.
According to Renee, that’s exactly why an integrative healthcare approach is vital for helping to solve the current crisis in healthcare.
Take back pain for example. Renee says mainstream medical approaches can mean people receive treatments that get progressively more invasive – from MRIs to prescription drugs to surgery.
What’s wrong with that scenario? People may not be experiencing any real and sustainable pain relief, says Renee. Or, the temporary relief they do get comes from drugs like opioids, which may simply mask the pain and are a problem in and of themselves.
In the U.S., 130 people die every day from opioid overdose. For Renee, the opioid abuse epidemic is a symptom of a larger healthcare problem: opting for more invasive options before less invasive ones are explored.
She says patients are unknowingly bypassing less invasive treatment options like chiropractic care, acupuncture, or massage therapy, largely because mainstream medical practitioners don’t know or don’t think about these possibilities.
But the good news, according to Renee, is that this is changing.
From crisis comes opportunities for people interested in integrative healthcare
As director of integrative care, program director of the massage therapy program, and an associate professor at Northwestern Health Sciences University, it’s part of Renee’s job to understand the current state of healthcare – and also play a role in shaping where it’s heading.
She’s also a practicing chiropractor, acupuncturist, and massage therapist.
From her deeply informed perspective, Renee says there are a lot of reasons to be excited about the prospects in integrative healthcare.
“I think many in mainstream medicine have long been aware of their limitations. I also think they’re both relieved and delighted by the collective move toward integrative healthcare.”
Renee says these practitioners are increasingly more open to referring patients to less invasive options – a major reason why it’s a great time to consider your career opportunities in integrative healthcare.
A bright future: Careers in chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy
In order to join the field of integrative healthcare, you’ll need an anchor discipline from which to work.
The fields of chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy vary in terms of the amount of education required to practice, the specific techniques used to diagnose and treat people, and the amount of money you can expect to earn.
On the other hand, there are common threads – and advantages – like the following that run through all of them.
Specialize in less invasive approaches to healthcare
Chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists all offer less invasive treatment options when compared to treatments such as prescription drugs and surgery.
All three rely on manual therapy – the use of the hands – as a primary way to provide care. Some find this an appealing feature in comparison with other healthcare careers.
Note however that, according to Renee, when people come into fields like chiropractic, acupuncture, and massage therapy today, they’re not looking to work within a silo.
“They typically are interested in playing an integral role in a person’s overall health and working with professionals across the healthcare spectrum.”
Play a pivotal role on the primary healthcare front
There’s a growing need for primary healthcare practitioners. Renee says that an integrative healthcare approach can help alleviate that problem.
More specifically, she anticipates that “in five years, we could see massage therapists, acupuncturists, and chiropractors all participating as primary care team members, especially as it relates to preventive healthcare.”
Help solve the pain management problem
All three of these disciplines are growing in importance in relation to the aforementioned opioid crisis. And as the population grows older and more people demand a non-pharmacological approach to healthcare, the demand for chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists will increase.
In other words, pain management options that don’t require surgery or the use of drugs are becoming highly sought after – and that’s great news for these professions.
Choose a career path with more freedom
Chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists typically have a higher degree of freedom and autonomy compared to other healthcare professions. For example, depending on your work environment, you may find it easier to set your own schedule.
That’s especially true for those interested in establishing their own practice, and self-employment is a highly popular route for these professions.
Enjoy having a variety of possibilities
On the other hand, if you’re not interested in the responsibilities that come with running your own practice, you have plenty of other possibilities, more than ever in fact.
Today, more and more chiropractors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists are joining hospitals, multidisciplinary clinics, or other small, private practices.
On top of that, you also have a variety of options when it comes to developing a specialty.
Prenatal care, sports-related treatment, working with veterans, providing complementary care to cancer patients – these are just a few of the many possibilities.
What kind of people switch to an integrative healthcare career?
“People come into these professions at all different points in their lives,” says Renee, adding that it’s not uncommon for acupuncture and massage therapy students to be on their second or third career.
“Sometimes they come from a healthcare-related field, but often times they have a background in something completely different,” says Renee.
As for why people switch, Renee says many of her students are looking for a career where they can make a direct and meaningful impact on people’s lives.
Sometimes they’re inspired from life experiences, like seeing a suffering family member find pain relief with acupuncture or having a positive experience themselves with a chiropractor.
Renee says she also has students who’ve been told for years they have “healing hands” by friends or family. “They’re the type that are giving shoulder rubs at family get-togethers.”
And for some of them, it’s about a long-held dream.
“I see a lot of students who have maybe been thinking of doing something like this for years, but it didn’t seem practical or it wasn’t what they ‘should’ be doing,” says Renee.
“But ultimately they wind up pursuing their dreams.”
Take the next step toward redefining healthcare – and your future
If you’ve ever dreamed of playing an integral role in the health and well-being of others, there’s never been a better time to explore career opportunities in integrative healthcare.
Lean more about us and integrative healthcare by contacting Northwestern Health Sciences University today.
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