Want to Study Nutrition and Integrative and Functional Medicine? Here are 4 Graduate Degree Options

Want to Study Nutrition and Integrative and Functional Medicine Here are 4 Graduate Degree Options

Lately I’ve been looking for Ph.D or DCN (doctor of clinical nutrition) programs, because…well, I guess I am a glutton for punishment. I haven’t applied to any yet, and I’m still very much in the consideration phase of planning, but in my search I found a few graduate programs that looked very promising so I wanted to share!

I get emails pretty much daily asking how to pursue integrative and functional medicine especially from a nutrition perspective, and many ask about my experience at the University of Western States. I’ve talked about it a bit on The Ancestral RDs podcast in Episode 7, so if you haven’t listened to that, I highly recommend doing so.

I’ll add some information here about my experience as well, and introduce you to a few other programs that sound very exciting.

Master’s Degrees:

University of Western States M.S. in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine

I believe UWS was one of the first schools to offer any sort of graduate degree in functional medicine, which is why I was very excited to learn more when I first heard about it. My experience there was overall a good one, and I definitely learned a lot that I use in my practice to this day.

However, I was part of the first class of students there and there were some kinks that needed to be worked out of the program. I also had a different program director than the one currently there. So when people come to me asking if they should go there, honestly, it’s hard for me to say! I don’t know how the program has changed since I left, but I can say that I learned a lot, the professors were great (for the most part) and I enjoyed my time there thoroughly.

One thing to think about with this program is that it is an online program, which has its benefits and detriments. Personally, I think I thrive better in an on-campus program, so online learning was a little difficult for me. Of course the major benefit was that I didn’t need to move to go to school, which for many of you who are currently practicing or who have jobs, will also likely be a benefit.

Overall, this is a good program (at least during the time I was there) and I recommend looking into it if you’re interested in a functional medicine approach.

Here’s what UWS has to say about the program:

“Our clinically-oriented human nutrition and functional medicine program is the only fully accredited master’s degree in functional medicine, having been granted regional accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, the highest level of academic accreditation available in the U.S. This program is 100 percent online as offered as a collaborative endeavor between UWS and the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), the organization which founded and developed the key functional medicine concepts used today.

Functional medicine is a science-based, patient-centered and systems-oriented approach to helping people achieve and maintain excellent health. This is accomplished primarily through natural methods, with diet and nutrition as a central focus. It is a forefront model for health care practice that seeks to address the causes of disease and dysfunction rather than suppressing symptoms. Founded on a holistic view of health, functional medicine delves deep into the biochemical and genetic individuality of each patient.”

Georgetown University M.S. in Human Physiology — Complementary and Alternative Medicine

This program looks really cool to me, and if I was applying for a Masters degree right now I’d really be considering it! As far as I can tell this is an in-person program on the Georgetown campus, so that may not work for those of you who need to continue working and/or don’t want to move to do your studies.

It looks like a very evidence-based program, and it seems like one of the main things they focus on is teaching you how to evaluate evidence to make solid recommendations. That is definitely appreciated in a climate of lots of bro-science these days and would make you uniquely qualified to translate the studies being done into practical, clinical takeaways.

Here’s what Georgetown has to say about the program:

“The goal of our unique program is to train students to objectively assess the safety and efficacy of various complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) modalities and explain the mechanistic basis for CAM therapies such as acupuncture, massage, herbs and supplements, and mind-body interactions. By embedding CAM principles and paradigms firmly into a conventional basic/clinical science context, we are preparing a new generation of healthcare providers, educators, and researchers for the challenging task of delivering the healthcare of the future: a multi-disciplinary evidence-based approach to healthcare characterized by more effective health maintenance and disease prevention.

At Georgetown University, we recognize the need to develop what is called “integrative medicine” (medicine that incorporates beneficial evidence-based practices from CAM as well as mainstream medicine). The faculty of Georgetown University School of Medicine has made this institution one of the leaders in the field, incorporating CAM into the education of medical students and into our graduate programs.”

George Washington University M.S. in Health Sciences in Integrative Medicine

I also love the sound of this program, and again, if I was considering a Masters program at this point, I would be thinking hard about going here. I believe this is a fully online program, which makes it doable for a lot more people, especially those who are currently working and want to go to school part time to earn their degree.

However, this program is for those who hold a medical degree already or a graduate degree in “one of the core discipline areas”. I’m not entirely sure what this means, but it’s possible that those of you with advanced degrees in something like biology may be able to apply. I’d definitely recommend giving them a call if it sounds like something you’re interested in!

Here’s what GWU has to say about the program:

“The online Master of Science in Health Sciences (MSHS) in INTM curriculum represents the most progressive, scientifically rigorous and forward thinking platform for medical wellness.  The MSHS in INTM requires the successful completion of 30 credit hours. Students develop a foundation and explore various intersections of INTM that contribute to patient wellness. Biostatistics and epidemiology courses provide an opportunity for students to collaborate with professionals from various disciplines, exploring philosophies and practices of translational research in human health. Through a series of practical application courses, students develop patient care plans, conduct case analyses, and evaluate practice standards to demonstrate competence of integrative medicine practice. Additional research coursework provides graduates requisite skills needed to participate in evidence-based research of clinical practice and outcomes research as part of a larger INTM network.”

Doctoral Degrees:

Here’s where I’m currently getting stuck! Right now there does not seem to be many doctoral degrees in this field, but I’m hoping there will be soon. I believe that great schools should be offering fellowships (meaning you’re fully funded for going to the school) to their doctoral students, and this is where the current offerings fail right now. I am considering going a more “mainstream” route for my doctorate (if I decide to actually do it!) so that I can get full funding. If you’ve got the money to do it without a fellowship, then by all means! Unfortunately, for many of us a Ph.D is out of the question unless there’s some funding.

Maryland University of Integrative Health – Doctor of Clinical Nutrition

I know close to nothing about this school, but it’s the ONLY doctoral program in the integrative and functional medicine field I can find (P.S. they also have a Masters degree). It’s an online program with some limited in-person requirements, so it will work well for those who are looking for a mostly online experience.

Here’s what MUIH has to say about the program:

“Maryland University of Integrative Health’s Doctor of Clinical Nutrition is designed to fill the tremendous and increasing demand for nutritionists who can work at all levels of the healthcare continuum and who will assume leadership roles in the field. As a graduate of this program, you will be prepared to work as a vital part of multidisciplinary healthcare teams in a number of wellness settings.

As with all MUIH academic programs, we blend cutting edge science with traditional wisdom. You will explore the vital and interrelated physiological, environmental, socio-cultural, and spiritual roles of food in our lives. This program also offers you evidenced-based practices, and hands on cooking labs, on-campus experiences as well as online coursework, focused individual work, and highly interactive group projects.

As a graduate of this program, you’ll be prepared with advanced nutritional, clinical, and research skills that will make you highly marketable as an accomplished and credible expert in the emerging field of integrative and functional nutrition.”

Personally, I am not interested in it because they don’t provide any funding that I can see, and for another reason which you’ll learn more about in my note below.

BIG, HEFTY NOTE TO THOSE CONSIDERING ANY GRADUATE DEGREES:

When I went to the University of Western States I was sooooo excited to have found a program that allowed me to study the topics I wanted and earn a Masters degree in the process. Given that they were the only game in town at the time, it was a really exciting opportunity!

However, now that I have completed that program and am looking at doctoral degrees, I want to go to a school with some level of recognition. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with going to a somewhat “alternative” school, but especially if it’s your only degree in the subject I’d really push you to consider the impact that will have on your career.

This matters less when you have another professional degree such as the RD, RN, PA, MD, etc, which is why I wasn’t too worried about it for my Masters (I just wanted to good info!).  However, if you’re trying to establish a career in this field solely based on a degree, you may want to consider more recognizable and established schools such as Georgetown or George Washington University.

Going to UWS was a great opportunity and I’m very happy I did it, but if I was considering going for a Masters degree now, you can bet that I’d be looking at some of the more mainstream schools that are now offering degrees in integrative and functional medicine. Just my two cents! 🙂

I hope this post has helped you in your decision-making, and I’d love to hear from those of you in any of these programs! And of course, if you know of another great school offering degrees in this field, please leave a comment.

Happy studying!

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