Frequently Asked Questions
- What is acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM)?
- What are the career opportunities in the AOM field?
- To what extent is the AOM profession accepted in the U.S.?
- How much can I expect to earn?
- How should I select an AOM school?
- What are the admissions requirements to an AOM school?
- Is financial assistance available to me if I become an AOM student?
- How long does it take to earn a degree in acupuncture or in Oriental medicine?
- What type of degree will I earn?
- What are the basic entry-level training requirements at AOM programs?
- Is it possible to earn a doctoral degree in the AOM field?
- Should I take the national certification examinations in this field?
- How do I become licensed to practice?
- Is it possible for me to be licensed to practice in more than one state?
- After I become licensed, what will I be permitted to do in my practice?
- What if I graduate from a school outside the U.S.?
- Should I join a professional association of practitioners?
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.
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.
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 Masterís degree level, which is the entry-level degree for the profession. Post-graduate clinical training is also available (see below). Member colleges of the CCAOM offer their students practice opportunities in over 100 off-campus clinics in 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.
There are approximately 30,000 AOM licensees in the United States. A recent estimate of the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) indicates that the median annual income for AOM licensees is $52,000 and has been increasing. Some practitioners may earn in excess of this amount, with reported income in some instances exceeding $100,000. Variables affecting income may include the nature of your practice, geographic location, and personal factors such as your ability to relate well to patients, professional demeanor, and marketing savvy.
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 other institutions of higher education in the U.S., AOM schools similarly reflect unique characteristics and often have different philosophies and approaches. For example, there is significant diversity in the curriculum among American AOM schools, 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. A schoolís 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 ACAOMís candidate and accredited schools may be viewed at http://www.acaom.org/find-a-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 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 Bachelorís 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 ACAOMís Accreditation Manual at http://www.acaom.org/documents/accreditation_manual_712.pdf, which contains additional standards concerning assessment of prior learning, transfer credit, advanced standing, and English language competence.
Students should contact the appropriate financial aid officer at an AOM school of interest to discuss financial aid issues, including any scholarship assistance that may be available from that school. 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. Interested students may also contact the following organizations to explore scholarship opportunities:
- Mayway Scholarship Program (http://www.mayway.com/scholarships)
- Trudy McAlister Foundation (http://www.trudymcalisterfoundation.org/application)
- Standard Process (https://www.standardprocess.com/About-Us/Newsroom/First-Recipients-of-Standard-Process-Inc-Acupunctu)
- Evergreen Herbs (https://www.evherbs.com)
- Nuherbs (http://nuherbs.com/giving/scholarship)
The length of training at most 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.
Currently the Masterís Degree is the entry-level standard for professional practice in the U.S. A Masterís 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.
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.
Although it is 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.
Currently, the Masterís degree program in acupuncture (3-years) or in Oriental medicine (4-years) is the entry-level requirement for professional practice in the U.S. Post-graduate clinical training at the doctoral level is available, however, at schools ACAOM has approved to offer doctoral degrees. Under ACAOMís standards, a post-graduate clinical doctoral program must be a minimum of 1200 hours of advanced training at the doctoral level and completed within four calendar years from the date of matriculation. Graduates are awarded a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM) degree. Under ACAOMís present standards, a Master of Oriental Medicine (M.OM.) degree with a Chinese herbal medicine curriculum is a prerequisite for doctoral training. In 2014, however, ACAOM is considering proposed revisions to its standards that would allow approved programs to offer post-graduate doctoral training that does not include herbal medicine training or a M.OM. degree as a prerequisite. ACAOMís proposed revisions may be viewed at http://www.acaom.org/documents/file/draft-revisions-to-acaom-postgraduate-doctoral-standards-3.14.pdf.
Separately, ACAOM has also developed standards for a free-standing first-professional doctoral (FPD) degree that some AOM colleges are interested in offering on a pilot basis. Such schools must submit a substantive change application to ACAOM for approval to offer this degree. The FPD professional competencies consist of a core set of foundational competencies, which are at the master's level and which are required of both masterís and doctoral graduates, plus a supplemental set of more advanced competencies, which are at the doctoral level and are required of doctoral graduates only. The FPD degree programs must be at least four academic years in length and approved schools may offer this degree in acupuncture or in Oriental medicine. Whether and when the first-professional doctoral degree may eventually become the entry-level requirement for the AOM profession are open questions that involve unsettled issues of professional consensus and state law. ACAOMís first-professional doctoral standards may be viewed at http://www.acaom.org/hot-news (see ďACAOM Approves FPD StandardsĒ).
Passage of NCCAOMís national certification examinations is strongly recommended for the following reasons: (1) passage of one or more of these examinations is generally required or accepted 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 Commissionís certification exams in Oriental Medicine, acupuncture, and Chinese herbology are awarded the designation "Diplomate" as follows: Dipl. O.M., Dipl. Ac., and Dipl. C.H.
Some 44 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 NCCAOMís examination modules is required or accepted as a route of licensure. Graduation from an ACAOM accredited or candidate school is required to take NCCAOMís national certifying examinations. The website of NCCAOM (http://www.nccaom.org/regulatory-affairs/state-licensure-map) provides licensure information for states that recognize its national examinations. Contact information for state AOM licensing boards is at http://www.acupuncture.com/statelaws/statelaw.htm#47.
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. Concerning post-graduate doctoral degrees in the U.S., see Question 10.
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 NCCAOMís national certifying examinations is generally required or accepted in most states that regulate the practice of AOM by statute (but not California), persons who wish to practice in more than one state would be well advised to pass one or more of NCCAOMís examinations to enhance the interstate portability of their license.
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.
Persons who have studied acupuncture in a school outside the U.S. who wish to complete their education at an AOM school in the U.S. should contact an AOM school in the U.S. to determine their eligibility to enter that school and to transfer earned academic credits. Persons who have graduated from a foreign AOM school and who wish to practice in the U.S. will need to meet state licensure requirements to practice in the U.S. As a condition of licensure, most states require or accept passage of one or more of NCCAOMís national certification examinations.
NCCAOM requires graduates persons educated outside the U.S. initially to apply to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO) or the World Education Services (WES) for a transcript evaluation. Neither AACRAO nor WES formally approve foreign educational institutions, but do determine if a school is recognized by a foreign governmental agency, such as a Ministry of Health or Ministry of Education, and whether the courses an NCCAOM examination applicant has taken are equivalent to ACAOMís curricular requirements. Further information about NCCAOMís procedure and these agencies is available on NCCAOMís website at http://www.nccaom.org/applicants/education-outside-the-united-states. http://www.nccaom.org/educatedoutus.htm
The national practitioner association for AOM professionals in the U.S. is the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM). For information about AAAOM, see www.aaaomonline.org. Most states also have a state professional association and some states have several professional associations.