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How to Become an Acupuncturist

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How to Become an Acupuncturist

Acupuncture is one of the oldest medical practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and has been used for over 5,000 years.  

Acupuncture is the "stimulation of specific points on the body, by insertion of very fine, sterile, stainless steel needles to elicit a predictable physiological response." Insertion of the needles is believed to stimulate the flow of qi (pronounced "chee"), a vital life force that balances the "spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical health"; in other words, the whole person. The practice of acupuncture is best known for alleviating musculoskeletal pain but is being investigated for its utility in dozens of other health conditions.

This article explores the practice of acupuncture, the training required to become an acupuncturist, career prospects, and salary.

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What is an Acupuncturist?

Acupuncturists are skilled healthcare providers who assess and treat patients using the philosophies of TCM.  

Various conditions are commonly treated with acupuncture (below is not an exhaustive list):

Female Health Concerns

  • Labor pain
  • Menstrual pain
  • Infertility
  • PCOS

Head and Neck Pain

  • Dental pain
  • Migraines
  • Tension headaches

Musculoskeletal Pain

  • Low back pain
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Overuse and strain injuries

Neurological Conditions

  • CNS Disorders
  • Post Stroke Rehabilitation
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Parkinson’s
  • Paralysis
  • Children with Neurological Disorders
  • Neuro-Inflammation

Other Conditions

  • Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Nausea and vomiting caused by surgery or chemotherapy
  • Post-herpetic neuralgia (PHN) after a shingles outbreak

This list will undoubtedly grow in the coming years, as more than 1,700 clinical trials are underway to evaluate acupuncture's utility in treating various conditions like Crohn's disease, lymphedema related to breast cancer, and improving the success rates of in vitro fertilization.

What Type of Academic Training Do Acupuncturists Go Through?

Prerequisite college or university courses, typically biology, chemistry, English, psychology, and the social sciences, are required to enter an acupuncture program. Sixty credits are needed to enter a Master's program, and ninety credits are necessary for a Doctoral program. There is no entrance exam required for acupuncture training.

In general, a Master's Program takes three to four years to complete, whereas a Doctoral program takes six or seven.

Topics covered in acupuncture programs include:

  • Diagnosis and Treatment of Disease
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Biochemistry
  • TCM diagnostic systems and methods
  • Acupuncture and needling techniques
  • Chinese Herbology
  • Tongue and Pulse Diagnosis
  • Integrative Nutrition
  • Preventive Medicine
  • Integrative Pain Management
  • Exercise therapy, including Taiji and Qigong
  • Pharmacology

A Master's program is sufficient education and training for general clinical practice. A doctoral program may be a better choice for acupuncture practitioners who want to teach, be employed at an academic institution, or conduct research.

Upon completion of training, many states require board certification by the NCCAOM to practice acupuncture. If an Acupuncturist wants to practice in the state of California they also have to be eligible based on the board requirements and then take the California Acupuncture Boards.

A different path is available for licensed clinicians, like MDs and DOs, who wish to add acupuncture to their medical practice. Credentialing is through the American Board of Medical Acupuncture (ABMA), which requires "a minimum of 300 hours of systematic acupuncture education acceptable to the ABMA."

What are The Top 10 Accredited Acupuncture Programs in The United States?

The top ten accredited acupuncture programs in the US are:

  1. Oregon College of Oriental Medicine
  2. Emperor's College – School of Traditional Chinese Medicine
  3. AOMA Graduate School of Integrative Medicine
  4. Bastyr University
  5. Five Branches University
  6. Maryland University of Integrative Health
  7. Northwestern Health Sciences University
  8. Pacific College of Health and Science
  9. American College of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine
  10. Atlantic Institute of Oriental Medicine

The criteria for choosing these schools include the following:

  • Quality of faculty
  • Comprehensiveness of the program
  • Internship availability
  • Reputation and time in existence for the school
  • Whether a Doctoral program is available

Where Do Acupuncturists Work?

Licensed acupuncture practitioners are employed at almost every prominent hospital system in the US (e.g., Cleveland Clinic, Harvard, UCLA Health, and the VA), where they have opportunities to work with other integrative healthcare professionals like physicians, nurses, chiropractors, and physical therapists.

Acupuncturists also work in medical and health clinics, universities, colleges, or their own practices.

What is The Average Salary for an Acupuncturist?

On average, acupuncturists make around USD 75,000 annually. Six states (New York, Idaho, California, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine) have acupuncturist salaries that top the US average.

Summary

Acupuncture is an ancient form of healing dating back thousands of years. It has become increasingly popular in the US over recent decades and is now considered an essential part of healthcare at many major hospitals and academic institutions.

Acupuncturists complete years of training at a Master's or Doctoral level, and many states require board certification to practice. The knowledge and skills of a licensed and board-certified acupuncturist set these practitioners apart from other healthcare providers who may offer acupuncture in their practice.

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