This is an important subject that is often overlooked, and really should be addressed before you have someone stick needles in you. Training for an Acupuncturist is often more intensive than many people realize. It’s also helpful to know the difference based on what treatment you are looking for.
So first and foremost, Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine programs are Master’s degrees that are overseen and accredited by an organization called ACAOM. They require a minimum of 60 hours of undergraduate work (equivalent to associate’s degrees) for entrance, followed by multiple years of study. Then, there are two tracks for schools: acupuncture only, or a full oriental medicine program.
Acupuncture Only Programs require a minimum of 3 academic years (6 terms) with 705 hours of Chinese Medicine (CM) instruction, 660 hours of clinical training, 450 hours of biomedicine, and 90 hours of communication/ethics/practice management. A total of 1,905 educational hours.
The full Oriental Medicine program, which also includes herbal studies, requires a minimum of 4 academic years (8 terms) with 705 hours of CM instruction, 450 hours of herbal instruction, 870 hours of clinical training, 510 hours in biomedicine, and 90 hours in communications/ethics/practice management. A total of 2,625 educational hours.
Many programs will go even further. The program at East West College, for example, requires 5 academic years, and 950 hours of clinical training for program completion. And none of these hours include additional certifications required, such as Clean Needle Technique or CPR & First Aid.
After completing the master’s program, prospective acupuncturists then have to pass board exams designed by another agency, the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). The exception to this is CA, which has its own board exams. Three states also have no requirements (SD, OK, and AL), so buyer beware.
There are 4 board exams through NCCAOM, all of which must be passed to be “Nationally Board Certified.” The exams are (1) Biomedicine, (2) Foundations of Oriental Medicine, (3) Acupuncture with Point Location, and (4) Chinese Herbology. These exams are conducted at Pearson Testing centers – the same agency that tests nurses, real estate agents, IT certifications, etc.
Some states do not require all 4 (typically opting out of the herbal component). Florida, for example, requires all 4, while Tennessee requires only 3 (opting out of the herbal exam requirement). If you are curious, you can check out your state’s requirements here.
Doctorates in CM
Further, there are Professional Doctorate programs that require even more hours and training, adding an additional 1,200 hours to the education program.
Other Professions Using Acupuncture
Acupuncturists are not the only ones using acupuncture to treat patients. Other professions have seen the results and are trying to incorporate the techniques into their own fields.
This can be good or bad. On the positive side, we see that traditional acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (CM) techniques work and patients are getting results (or other professions wouldn’t want to use them). We also see that more people have access to treatment protocols than if only acupuncturists were able to use them.
The negative side, however, shows us a group of professionals that, while very well trained and experienced in their own protocols, don’t necessarily get the same standard of training before being licensed to use acupuncture needles on their patients. In some cases (not all), this can lead to patients not seeing the results they expected, or (worse) serious injury.
The American Board of Medical Acupuncture (ABMA)
The ABMA is responsible for certifying MD’s and DO’s who wish to practice acupuncture. They require 300 hours of training, with 200 hours through an approved course, split equally between clinical and lecture instruction. They also require the passing of a written board exam.
The requirements of chiropractors vary by state, with the most common requirement centering on 100 hours of total learning (lecture and clinical practice). Some states climb as high as 300 hours, and not all states allow chiropractors to use acupuncture at all.
One of the hot debates right now is whether Physical Therapists should be allowed to practice “dry needling,” which is a very aggressive technique in acupuncture. We’re going to skip right over that and instead talk about the certification required for them to perform this technique. Which, while also varying by state, typically requires 54 hours of education (lecture and clinical practice).
ABMA. Requirements for Certification in Medical Acupuncture. Retrieved September 9, 2019, from http://www.dabma.org/requirements.asp.
ACAOM. (2019, March 13). Standard 7. Retrieved from http://acaom.org/comp-standards-7/.Ch
ChiroCredit. Chiropractic Acupuncture Certification Courses. Retrieved September 9, 2019, from https://www.chirocredit.com/pages/acupuncture_certification.php.
Master Dry Needling. Scope Of Practice (For PT’s). Retrieved September 9, 2019, from https://www.masterdryneedling.com/scope-of-practice-for-pts/.
NCCAOM. (2018, January 1). State Licensure. Retrieved from https://www.nccaom.org/state-licensure/.