Frequently Asked Questions
- What is acupuncture and Oriental medicine?
- What are the career opportunities in the acupuncture and Oriental medicine field?
- To what extent is the profession accepted in the U.S.?
- How much can I expect to earn?
- How should I select an acupuncture school?
- What are the requirements for entering an acupuncture school?
- How long does it take to obtain a degree?
- What type of degree will I earn?
- What are the basic entry-level training requirements?
- Should I obtain a doctoral degree?
- Are scholarships available?
- How do I obtain financial aid?
- How do I become licensed to practice?
- Will I be able to practice in more than one state?
- Once I become licensed, what will I be permitted to do in my practice?
- Should I take the national exams offered by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine?
- 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 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.
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.
While CCAOM does not rank or recommend specific colleges from among its member schools, prospective students may reference 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 school 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.
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 Essential Requirement 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.
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.
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, Master in Traditional Oriental Medicine, etc.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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 passage of one or more of NCCAOM’s national certification examinations. NCCAOM permits persons educated outside the U.S. to submit a Foreign Education Review Application (FERA) directly to the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers (AACRAO). Although AACRAO does not formally approve foreign educational institutions, it does determine whether a school is recognized by a foreign governmental agency, such as a Ministry of Health or Ministry of Education, and whether the courses an examination applicant has taken are equivalent to ACAOM’s curricular requirements. Further information about NCCAOM’s procedure and a copy of the FERA application are available on NCCAOM’s website at http://www.nccaom.org/educatedoutus.htm.
The most prominent national practitioner association for AOM professionals in the U.S. is the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AAAOM). This organization offers a wide range of benefits not only to professional AOM practitioners, but also to AOM students. For further information about AAAOM, see American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Most states also have a state professional association. Generally, the state licensing boards will have contact information for these associations.