Careers in Herbal Medicine
By Ashley Boyce, an allied health world staff writer
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In a conversation with herbal pharmacist, Michele Milligan, Allied Health World learned about the skills and job tasks unique to this profession. Michele provides thoughtful answers to the questions aspiring herbalists have about what’s involved in a career practicing herbal medicine:
What are the various employment settings an herbalist might work in?Graduates of herbalist certificate programs or higher-level herbalist degrees can find work in a number of different professional capacities. Some work within the medical practices of naturopaths (ND), homeopaths or other holistic healthcare professionals.
An herbalist career may involve working either independently or for herbal supplement companies as a buyer, formulator, grower, or researcher. There are also herbalist career opportunities for those interested in working as teachers, writers, and journalists, sharing their unique expertise and publishing information on the findings of recent research studies.
Herbalists may also work in the retail setting of an herb shop or herbal pharmacy. Very often herbalists work as consultants, offering advice to both the public and other natural health professionals in either a clinical setting or pharmacy.
Small independently operated herbal operations are not terribly uncommon and many manage to be quite profitable in the age of multi-national corporations. Those who own their own herb farm may parley their knowledge of herbs into a very viable business. These independent herbalists may assume the role of grower, formulator, manufacturer, and marketer of their own herbs, herbal supplements, and tinctures. Other independent herb farmers many simply grow herbs for sale to herbal supplement companies.
Can herbalists diagnose illness and prescribe the use of medicinal herbs?Only doctorate-level health care practitioners like MDs, Chiropractors (DC), and Naturopaths (ND) are able to diagnose illnesses and make specific medicinal recommendations. Herbalists; however, can still draw from their scholastic and experiential knowledge in helping clients find the herb that is most appropriate for their conditions. Herbal pharmacist, Michele Milligan, explains how she offers her clients information based on her herbalist training and unique expertise while still respecting the parameters of her profession: “I can make recommendations based on what I’ve read in a book, or if someone I’ve worked with before has taken an herb and it has worked for them in a similar situation. An herbalist is not licensed to diagnose, so you have to be really careful with your language.”
How do herbalists work with other natural health professionals?Since direct recommendations based on medical assessment can only be provided by doctorate level medical professionals like naturopathic doctors (ND) and chiropractors, patients often go to herb shops and herbal pharmacies with a list of herbs their ND or chiropractor has recommended they take. However, NDs and other doctorate-level medical practitioners don’t often have the same level of knowledge specific to medicinal plants and herbs as an herbalist does. Because of the unique training herbalists receive and their inclination to stay current on new findings on the medicinal use of herbs, they are often in a position to refine the recommendations made by NDs and chiropractors to suggest the combination of herbs best suited to the patient’s specific condition.
It is becoming increasingly common for NDs, chiropractors, homeopathic doctors, acupuncturists, and massage therapists to partner with herbalists and operate their practices within the same offices so as to be able to refer patients directly to a resident herbalist.