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Career FAQs

  1. What is acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM)?
  2. To what extent is the AOM profession accepted in the U.S.?
  3. How much can an AOM practitioner expect to earn?
  4. What are the career opportunities in the AOM field?
  5. How should a student select an AOM school?
  6. What are the admissions requirements to an AOM school?
  7. How long does it take to earn a degree in acupuncture or in Oriental medicine?
  8. What type of degree will a graduate of an AOM school earn?
  9. Is it possible to earn a doctoral degree in the AOM field?
  10. Should an AOM graduate take the national certification examinations in this field?
  11. Is financial assistance available to AOM students?
  12. How can an AOM student obtain financial assistance?
  13. What are the basic entry-level training requirements for an AOM practitioner?
  14. How does an AOM graduate become licensed to practice?
  15. Is it possible for a licensed AOM practitioner to practice in more than one state?
  16. After an AOM practitioner becomes licensed, what will the practitioner be permitted to do in his/her practice?

What is acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM)?

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM) is an ancient and empirical system of medicine based on the concept of qi (pronounced "chee"), which is usually translated as energy. Oriental medicine includes the practice of Chinese herbology in addition to acupuncture. AOM treatments identify a pattern of energetic imbalance within a patient and redress that disharmony in a variety of ways that may include acupuncture needling, cupping, acupressure, exercises such a tai ji quan and qi gong, as well as Chinese herbal preparations. AOM is virtually free of the side effects that accompany many modern medical procedures. Moreover, as a relatively inexpensive form of treatment, it is especially appropriate for reducing healthcare costs. The success of acupuncture today is due to its efficacy, remarkable safety record, cost-effectiveness, and significant public demand.

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To what extent is the AOM profession accepted in the U.S.?

AOM is one of the most requested forms of treatment in the fast-growing field of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and holds promise as one of the key modalities to be used in current and future integrative medical settings. Both the World Health Organization (WHO) and a 1997 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Statement have recognized acupuncture as effective in treating a wide variety of health conditions. Over 50 accredited and pre-accredited colleges nationwide offer graduate training in AOM at the Master's degree level, which is the entry-level degree for the profession. Post-graduate clinical training through the Doctorate of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine and the Doctorate of Acupuncture degrees is also available. Member colleges of the CCAOM offer their students practice opportunities in over 100 off-campus clinics in the communities where the schools are located. A number of these clinics involve the provision of AOM services in settings integrating both conventional medical and CAM therapies. Some 44 states and the District of Columbia have adopted acupuncture practice acts permitting the practice of AOM.

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How much can an AOM practitioner expect to earn?

There are approximately 20,000-25,000 AOM licensees throughout the United States. A recent estimate, which is based on job postings, reports an annual income range between $30,000-$60,000 and notes that gross annual income can be as much as $105,000. Chronicle Guidance Brief 249 (2008) [Acupucturists]. Variables affecting income may include the nature of the acupuncturist’s practice, geographic location, and personal factors such as the ability of the practitioner to relate well to patients, professional demeanor, and marketing savvy.

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What are the career opportunities in the AOM field?

AOM practitioners can create financially supportive careers with flexible work schedules that are rewarding on many levels. An AOM career offers the opportunity for a more balanced lifestyle for both the AOM practitioner and his/her patient. Patients are viewed from a holistic perspective, taking into account their physical, mental, and emotional health. Practitioners are able to spend time developing a collaborative relationship with patients, assisting them in maintaining their health and promoting a consciousness of wellness. The settings in which AOM practitioners work vary from a multi-disciplinary clinic with other health care professionals, to a hospital, to a private practice. Other career options include teaching, translating, publishing, research, or working with an herb or acupuncture supply company.

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How should a student select an AOM school?

While CCAOM does not rank or recommend specific colleges from among its member schools, prospective students may access the websites of AOM schools from the CCAOM website (www.ccaom.org), obtain catalogues from schools of interest, and compare programs at various institutions. It is highly recommended that prospective students personally visit schools of interest. Talking to administrators, faculty, current students, and graduates of a program can provide valuable insight into the emphasis and general atmosphere of a program. As with any institution of higher education, each AOM schools in the U.S. will have unique characteristics and often different philosophies and approaches. For example, there is significant diversity in the curriculum offered by AOM schools in the U.S., with representation of the traditional Chinese, Japanese, Five Element, Korean, and Vietnamese traditions.

It is important for students to attend a school that has received either pre-accreditation (candidacy) or full accreditation status with the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). ACAOM is the only national organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for the accreditation of AOM schools and programs in the U.S. The school's candidacy or accreditation status with ACAOM represents the highest level of AOM institutional or programmatic quality assurance available in the U.S. today. Moreover, graduation from an ACAOM candidate or accredited school is a pre-requisite for taking the national certification exams in this field. A list of ACAOM's candidate and accredited schools may be viewed at http://www.acaom.org/accdtd_cndtdschls.htm.

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What are the admissions requirements to an AOM school?

Minimum requirements include satisfactory completion of at least two (2) academic years (60 semester credits/90 quarter credits) of education at the baccalaureate level that is appropriate preparation for graduate level work, or the equivalent (e.g., certification in a medical profession requiring at least the equivalent training of a registered nurse or a physician's assistant), from an institution accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. Many AOM colleges exceed this minimum standard and require a Bachelor's Degree for admission. Prospective students should inquire directly about admissions requirements with an AOM program of interest and may also refer to the full text of Standard 6 in ACAOM's Accreditation Handbook at http://www.acaom.org/handbook.htm, which contains additional standards concerning assessment of prior learning, transfer credit, advanced standing, and English language competence.

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How long does it take to earn a degree in acupuncture or in Oriental medicine?

The length of training at most AOM schools is about three (3) years for acupuncture and four (4) years for Oriental medicine programs. The study of Oriental medicine includes both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.

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What type of degree will a graduate of an AOM school earn?

Currently the Master's Degree is the entry-level standard for professional practice in the U.S. A Master's degree is available in either acupuncture or in Oriental medicine and is variously denominated by AOM colleges; e.g., Master of Acupuncture, Master of Science in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Master of Science in Oriental Medicine, Diploma in Acupuncture, or Master in Traditional Oriental Medicine.

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Is it possible to earn a doctoral degree in the AOM field?

Although it is currently not necessary to obtain a doctoral degree to practice AOM in the U.S, some AOM practitioners desire to further their education and training through the opportunity that post-graduate doctoral degrees provide. Institutions offering doctoral degrees also provide students with an opportunity for specialization within the AOM field.

Although the Master's degree is the current entry-level requirement for professional practice in the U.S., post-graduate clinical training through the Doctorate of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Degree and the Doctorate of Acupuncture Degree is available at schools that ACAOM has approved to offer these degrees. These doctoral programs must be offered in an institution that provides a Master's degree program in acupuncture or in Oriental medicine that is accredited by ACAOM. Further, while a doctoral program includes Master's level requirements and mandates the prior completion of a Master's level program, ACAOM intends eventually to develop accreditation standards for a fully integrated, free-standing, professional doctoral degree program independent of Master's level educational requirements. Currently, under ACAOM's standards, a doctoral program must be a minimum of 4000 hours for each doctoral student, which includes the Master's level training, a minimum of 1200 hours of which must be at the doctoral level.

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Should an AOM graduate take the national certification examinations in this field?

Taking NCCAOM's national certification examinations is strongly recommended for the following reasons: (1) passage of one or more of NCCAOM's national certifying examinations is generally required as a condition of licensure in most states that regulate the practice of AOM by statute; (2) AOM licensees who wish to practice in more than one state may enhance the interstate portability of their license; and (3) the examinations of NCCAOM are generally regarded as the highest measure of entry-level competency within the AOM profession. Persons who pass the Commission's certification exams in Oriental Medicine, acupuncture, Chinese herbology, or Asian bodywork therapy are awarded the designation "Diplomate" as follows: Dipl. O.M., Dipl. Ac., Dipl. C.H., Dipl. A.B.T.

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Is financial assistance available to AOM students?

Students should contact the appropriate financial aid officer at an AOM school of interest to discuss financial aid issues. Students who attend AOM institutions that have achieved candidacy or full accreditation status with ACAOM may be eligible to participate in Title IV federal student aid programs.

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How can an AOM student obtain financial assistance?

The Triskeles Foundation provides the Trudy McAlister Fund Scholarship for students who have completed one full academic year at an ACAOM accredited or candidate school and have met certain other requirements. See http://www.triskeles.org/tmf_scholarship_fund.asp for further information. Students may also wish to contact individual AOM schools for scholarship opportunities available from that school or through national scholarship databases.

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What are the basic entry-level training requirements for an AOM practitioner?

A professional acupuncture curriculum must consist of at least 47 semester credits (705 hours) in Oriental medical theory, diagnosis and treatment techniques in acupuncture and related studies; 22 semester credits (660 hours) in clinical training; 30 semester credits (450 hours) in biomedical clinical sciences; and 6 semester credits (90 hours) in counseling, communication, ethics, and practice management.

A professional Oriental medicine curriculum must consist of at least 47 semester credits (705 hours) in Oriental medical theory, diagnosis and treatment techniques in acupuncture and related studies; 30 semester credits (450 hours) in didactic Oriental herbal studies; 29 semester credits (870 hours) in integrated acupuncture and herbal clinical training; 34 semester credits (510 hours) in biomedical clinical sciences; and 6 semester credits (90 hours) in counseling, communication, ethics, and practice management.

Prospective students should inquire directly with a program of interest as many AOM schools exceed these minimum requirements. The general trend in recent years has been for an increase in the number of curriculum hours at AOM schools.

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How does an AOM graduate become licensed to practice?

Some 42 states and the District of Columbia currently provide for the licensure (or a comparable form of practice authorization) for AOM practitioners. The law of each state should be consulted for specific education, training, examination, and application requirements. In most states, one or more of NCCAOM's examination modules is recognized as a route of licensure. Graduation from an ACAOM accredited or candidate school is required to take NCCAOM's national certifying examinations. The website of NCCAOM (http://www.nccaom.org/states.html) provides licensure information for states where its national examinations are recognized. Contact information for each of the state AOM licensing boards is available at the website of the Federation of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Regulatory Agencies (http://www.faomra.com/board_directories.html). For an overview of AOM state licensing laws and other useful information about the profession, reference may be made to a publication of the National Acupuncture Foundation (NAF) entitled Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine State Laws and Regulations (2005 ed.). This publication may be ordered through NAF at http://www.nationalacupuncturefoundation.org.

In most states, practitioners are designated "Licensed Acupuncturists (L.Ac.)," but in some states they may be designated "Acupuncture Physicians" or "Doctors of Oriental Medicine." These doctoral designations, however, are licensure titles conferred by the state and do not reflect earned academic degrees at the doctoral level. The only academic doctoral degree currently available in the U.S. in the AOM field is at the post-graduate level in the Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine degree (DAOM) or the Doctor of Acupuncture degree (D.Ac.). See Question 9.

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Is it possible for a licensed AOM practitioner to practice in more than one state?

Currently, interstate reciprocity within the AOM profession is not uniform and the law of each state determines the extent to which that state will recognize an AOM license conferred by another state. Persons who desire to practice in more than one state should contact the AOM licensing boards in states of interest to identify specific requirements. As passage of one or more of NCCAOM's national certifying examinations is generally required in most states that regulate the practice of AOM by statute, persons who wish to practice in more than one state would be well advised to pass one or more of NCCAOM's examinations to enhance the interstate portability of their license.

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After an AOM practitioner becomes licensed, what will the practitioner be permitted to do in his/her practice?

The law of each state determines what an AOM practitioner is permitted to do in actual practice. The "scope of practice" varies from state to state and reference should be made to the specific state statute. By way of example, the practice of acupuncture is often defined as the stimulation of certain points on or near the surface of the human body by the insertion of needles to prevent or modify the perception of pain, to normalize physiological functions, or to treat certain diseases or dysfunctions of the body. A number of state statutes reference the energetic aspect of acupuncture by noting its usefulness in controlling and regulating the flow and balance of energy in the body or in normalizing energetic physiological function. Other state statutes may define acupuncture by reference to traditional or modern Chinese or Oriental medical concepts or to modern techniques of diagnostic evaluation.

State laws may also authorize acupuncture licensees to employ a wide panoply of adjunctive therapies such as moxibustion, cupping, dietary guidelines, Oriental or therapeutic massage, therapeutic exercise, electroacupuncture, acupressure, dietary recommendations, herbal therapy, injection and laser therapy, homeopathy, ion cord devices, ordering of western diagnostic tests, magnets, qi gong and massage. The treatment of animals may be within the scope of practice in some states.

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