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How to Become an Acupuncturist


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese medical practice that involves using thin, sterile needles to stimulate points on the body. This practice is based on the concept of “qi”, or energy, and is often sought for pain management. Acupuncture may also involve the use of electrical stimulation, or the application of heat or pressure. Practitioners are trained to diagnose patient issues and choose the appropriate point on the body to apply the technique and elicit the desired response.

Acupuncturists can practice independently or as part of an integrative medical team alongside practitioners of modern Western medicine.

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What kind of training is required to become an acupuncturist?

If you want to become an acupuncturist in the United States, you can study acupuncture at any school accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM), which is recognized by the US Department of Education as the authority in this field.

Applicants to accredited acupuncture schools must first complete at least two years of study at the baccalaureate level, and many schools require a bachelor’s degree. Acupuncture programs often welcome students from all educational backgrounds, so if you have not yet studied any form of medicine, you can still pursue this path.

Students in acupuncture programs take courses in Oriental medical theory, diagnosis and treatment techniques, Oriental herbal studies, integrated acupuncture and herbal clinical training, and biomedical clinical sciences. You will also learn how to manage an acupuncture practice and communicate with clients.

If you successfully complete your program, you will graduate with a master’s degree, which is the minimum educational requirement to practice in most states.

Are there any certification or licensure requirements?

In the United States, all but six states require acupuncturists to obtain a license to practice. California has its own licensing examination for acupuncturists, but the remaining states require acupuncturists to either pass certain National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) examinations or complete the NCCAOM certification program.

To become certified by the NCCAOM, you must graduate from a ACAOM-accredited program, complete a clean needle technique course offered by the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CCOAM), and pass certification exams in the foundations of Oriental medicine, acupuncture, and biomedicine. Those who complete the certification program are known as NCCAOM Diplomates.

Each state defines the scope of what a Licensed Acupuncturist (L.Ac.) may do in his or her practice, and an acupuncturist who has been licensed in one state may not be able to practice in other states.

How long does it take to become an acupuncturist?

A master’s degree program in acupuncture can take three years to complete and you can begin the process of NCCAOM certification in the final year of your program.

What does an acupuncturist earn?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics does not collect data on the employment and earnings of acupuncturists, so it is difficult to determine what the average practitioner in the United States earns each year. The CCAOM reports that certified acupuncturists earn between $30,000 and $60,000 each year, but the National Guild of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NGAOM) challenges this data and suggests that many acupuncturists are underemployed.

What are the job prospects?

According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), use of acupuncture is on the rise. NCCAM’s 2007 National Health Interview Survey revealed that one million additional people reported using acupuncture treatment as compared to the 2002 survey.

This data suggests that prospects for acupuncturists seeking employment should be on the upswing, but the NGAOM argues that acupuncturists’ opportunities are limited as they most often work independently in private practice.

What are the long-term career prospects for acupuncturists?

Prospects for career advancement for acupuncturists are unclear, as their role in mainstream health care is still evolving. Some acupuncturists may find success in private practice and seek additional education and training at the doctorate level.

One promising career path for acupuncturists is to serve as part of an integrative medical team and assist in the treatment of diseases like cancer. While evidence for this practice is limited, many health care providers are moving toward the integrative model to provide holistic support to their patients.

How can I find a job as an acupuncturist?

Most acupuncturists create their own jobs by starting a private practice. These practitioners are responsible for running an office, which involves tasks like billing, scheduling, and obtaining the equipment and insurance needed to operate.

How can I learn more about becoming an acupuncturist?

You can learn more about certification requirements for acupuncturists through the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. If you would like to learn more about the history and practice of acupuncture, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the National Institutes of Health has compiled some background information and references that you can find at the NCCAM website.

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