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How to Become an Acupuncturist

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Before acupuncture gained popularity, individuals who wanted to know how to learn acupuncture consulted traditional healers. Nowadays, becoming an acupuncturist entails formal education, attending an acupuncture school, obtaining an acupuncture certification and other necessary licensing. Without these qualifications, one cannot legally practice acupuncture in the US.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Most acupuncture schools have a prerequisite for applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree. Hence, obtaining one is advisable to broaden your options for admission to acupuncture programs.

The preferred programs for a bachelor’s degree often include biology, anatomy, physiology, or other related fields under biological sciences. These programs provide in-depth knowledge about the human body’s structure and functioning, which is valuable for understanding acupuncture principles and practice.

The median degree cost is US$19,000, which goes much higher if you are an out-of-state student or you choose to study at a private university. Additionally, you will typically spend four years completing a bachelor’s degree.

Step 2: Complete an Accredited Acupuncture Program

After completing a bachelor’s degree, you can proceed to an accredited acupuncture school to acquire the strong clinical skills needed in the profession and earn a Master of Acupuncture or Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Some of these schools also offer a path for those with no prior degree, giving them a combined bachelor’s/master’s option.

For the former, it takes approximately three years to complete. Meanwhile, the latter takes four years and will require you to take some prerequisite courses before starting your acupuncture coursework. You can also choose to further your education by earning a doctorate degree, which will take another four years to complete.

The tuition for accredited acupuncture programs varies, typically falling within the range of $40,000 to $70,000 for the complete training. Several programs determine their tuition based on a per-credit-hour cost.

Can I Become an Acupuncturist Through Online Education?

Becoming an acupuncturist through online education alone is not possible. While there are online resources and programs that will show you how to learn acupuncture, they do not provide the clinical component, which is a fundamental part of your education.  Furthermore, the licensing process necessitates graduation from an accredited acupuncture program – a qualification that online programs typically lack.

Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become an Acupuncturist

Step 3: Gain Clinical Experience (Complete Internship)

After learning how to become an acupuncturist, you must gain hands-on experience via internship opportunities. This experience is part of the requirements that will be needed for your certification.

What Internship Opportunities Are Available for an Acupuncturist?

  • Private Practice Internship: Here, you’ll gain hands-on experience in a real-world setting, providing treatments to patients under the guidance of an experienced practitioner. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn the business side of running an acupuncture clinic while honing your clinical skills.
  • Acupuncture Clinic Internship: Specialized acupuncture clinics provide internships for acupuncturists interested in refining their skills in a focused clinical environment. You’ll work with a variety of patients seeking specific treatments, which can deepen your expertise in addressing particular health concerns.
  • Community Health Center Internship: Community health centers often provide acupuncture services to individuals who may not have easy access to healthcare. As an intern, you’ll contribute to improving the well-being of the community while developing your clinical proficiency.
  • Hospital Internship: Hospitals occasionally offer internships to acupuncturists interested in working in a hospital setting. This unique opportunity allows you to integrate acupuncture into conventional healthcare practices. You may collaborate with medical teams, providing complementary care to patients with various medical conditions.
  • Research Institution Internship: Here, you can contribute to acupuncture-related studies and clinical trials, gaining experience in the field of acupuncture research and potentially shaping the future of this holistic practice.

What Skills Will I Learn as an Acupuncturist?

  • Acupuncture Techniques: You will master the art of acupuncture, including needling techniques, point location, and meridian theory. This skill is fundamental to your practice as an acupuncturist.
  • Herbal Medicine Knowledge: Acupuncturists often use herbal remedies in conjunction with acupuncture. You will learn about traditional Chinese herbs, their properties, and how to prescribe and prepare herbal treatments.
  • Diagnostic Skills: Acupuncturists use diagnostic methods such as pulse-taking, tongue diagnosis, and patient interviews to assess imbalances and develop treatment plans.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine Principles: You will gain a deep understanding of traditional Chinese medicine concepts, including yin and yang, qi (vital energy), and the Five Elements theory.
  • Treatment planning: This includes developing individualized treatment plans for patients based on their needs and conditions.
  • Patient Communication: Effective communication is key to understanding patients’ needs, explaining treatment plans, and building strong practitioner-patient relationships.
  • Safety and Hygiene Practices: You’ll learn strict safety and hygiene protocols to ensure a clean and safe treatment environment.
  • Patient Record-Keeping: Maintaining accurate and confidential patient records is a legal and ethical responsibility of acupuncturists.

Step 4: Obtain Certification and Pass Licensing

NCCAOM Certification

All acupuncturists must be certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). The institute offers the following certificates: Diplomate of Acupuncture, Diplomate of Chinese Herbology, and Diplomate of Oriental Medicine.

The NCCAOM certification exam can be taken up to 3 times per year, in January, May, and September, after an applicant must have completed a supervised clinical internship. Applicants are required to take all or some of the following board exams: Foundations of Oriental Medicine (FOM), Acupuncture with Point Location (ACPL), Chinese Herbology (CH), and Biomedicine (BIO). The cost of the exam varies depending on the exams you are taking, but it is typically around US$500 per exam.

After earning the certification, diplomates must renew their certification every four years and are expected to maintain their status by participating in Professional Development Activities (PDA). A Diplomate who fails to renew by the expiration date will lose access to all benefits and services associated with the NCCAOM certification.

Clean Needle Technique Certificate

This is a prerequisite for the NCCAOM certificate. The Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine’s (CCAHM) Clean Needle Technique (CNT) course is NCCAOM-approved. The format for administration includes a proctored online written exam and a practical exam, which can be taken as many times as needed.

The cost of the CNT certificate varies depending on the organization that offers the course, but it is typically around US$200. It is typically recommended that acupuncturists renew their certificates every three years.

State Licensing

Similar to other medical professions, licensure for acupuncturists is regulated on a state-by-state basis. As a new practitioner, you will need to apply directly to the board in your state to obtain your professional license.

Before applying for an acupuncture license, you must meet all the specified education and certification requirements outlined in the previous sections. If your application is based on credits obtained from courses in a country where English is not the primary language, you must also demonstrate your proficiency in English.

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