Acupuncture Certification and Certificate Program Information

Learn about acupuncture education programs as well as certification information. This article discusses prerequisites, coursework and licensure requirements.

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Essential Information

Certification to practice acupuncture is granted after passing examinations conducted by a national certifying body. Qualifying for the process typically requires a master's degree or the equivalent in acupuncture and/or Oriental medicine. Post-graduate certificate programs in acupuncture also exist.

Students of master's-level acupuncture programs explore Chinese medicine and herbology principles. These programs consist of classroom and clinical instruction. Applicants to a master's degree program should have completed some college and, preferably, have health-related work experience.

Ideally, applicants to a post-graduate certificate program in acupuncture should be medical specialists who have master's degrees and medical licenses, although non-medical master's degrees might be considered. The advanced certificate program includes diagnostic coursework as well as extensive clinical practice.


Master's Degree in Acupuncture

Once dismissed by non-Asian cultures, many of the traditional Asian medicines have come to be embraced by Western medical practice. Acupuncture is generally taught as part of a traditional Asian medicine core curriculum, in concert with basic Western biomedical sciences. A master's degree program takes three to four years to finish and requires as many as 2,500 hours of classwork and clinical practice. Some programs allow students to substitute time spent in apprenticeship to a licensed preceptor for classroom and clinical time.

The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) is charged with accrediting master's-level programs in the United States. By 2009, about 70 such programs had been approved, and another five candidate programs were being evaluated.

Educational Prerequisites

Requirements for an applicant's educational background vary, depending upon the degree-granting institution. Nearly all require a high school diploma, and most prefer the completion of one or two years of secondary education. Schools sanctioned by the ACAOM (www.acaom.org) strongly recommend applicants to have completed two years of college. Experience in medicine or patient care would also weigh in the applicant's favor.

Program Coursework

In the U.S., traditional Asian medicine is generally taught in the context of accepted Western medical practice. In order for students to become certified acupuncturists, they must complete a course load similar to the curriculum of pre-med students. The acupuncture coursework would include:

  • Principles of traditional Chinese medicine
  • Pressure points and meridian pathways
  • Dermal and neural anatomy
  • Needle manipulation styles
  • Musculo-skeletal evaluation
  • Chinese herbology
  • Pharmacology of injectable medications
  • Moxibustion (burning herbs near acupuncture points)

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

Many traditional Asian medical disciplines are enjoying a surge in popularity, and the number of acupuncturists is growing rapidly. Almost half of all companies' employee health benefit plans included acupuncture in 2004, reported a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The number of Oriental medicine practitioners in the U.S. grew 32% from 2002 to 2007, and more than 22,000 were licensed or certified in 2009, announced the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (www.nccaom.org).

According to the reports of 63 acupuncturists, collected by Payscale.com, annual salaries for new acupuncturists in September 2013 ranged from $30,061 to $62,343. The range for practitioners with 5-9 years of experience could reach $71,954.

Certification and Licensure

Students who complete the mandated hours of coursework and clinical practice in an ACAOM-accredited program, plus a sanctioned course in clean-needle technique, are eligible to sit for National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) exams in Oriental medicine, acupuncture and biomedicine. Hours spent training in approved apprenticeship programs may be used to offset some course and clinic hours, and credits from unaccredited programs will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Graduates who meet all of the certification requirements earn the designation 'Diplomate in Acupuncture (NCCAOM).' Certification is valid for four years, during which diplomates must earn continuing education credits in order to maintain certification for another four years.

Licensure agencies of 41 U.S. states require NCCAOM certification or examinations as part of their criteria for issuing acupuncturists licenses to practice. State laws governing licensure may vary, and a license to practice in one state may not be valid in another.

Postgraduate Certificate in Acupuncture

Medical professionals with a master's degree, M.D. or D.O. who seek to add acupuncture to their repertoire of therapies can supplement their medical degrees in a postgraduate certificate or diploma program. The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine accredits some such programs at the master's degree level.

As of early 2009, the ACAOM had no accreditation program in place for doctoral acupuncture programs, although a pilot program was underway. Until plans for accreditation are finalized, students in such programs may be unable to apply for Title IV financial aid.

Educational Prerequisites

Candidates with a master's degree in medicine or applied health can apply to waive credits they have already earned in the course of their medical training, significantly reducing the number of hours required to complete the certificate program. Candidates with a master's in a non-medical area are usually considered, but with fewer medical credits to waive, their course load would be heavier.

Program Coursework

Programs designed for trained medical professionals need not duplicate the undergraduate courses in Western medicine. Courses concentrate on traditional Asian medical practice and the specifics of acupuncture:

  • Acupuncture theory and meridians
  • Instruments and techniques
  • Neural and muscle therapy
  • Trigger points
  • Alternate forms of diagnosis
  • Clinical practice

Popular Career Options

The adoption of traditional Asian medical practices can increase the client base for medical practitioners and provide their patients with a broader selection of therapy options. Some professionals increasingly adding acupuncture to their practices include:

  • Chiropractors
  • Physical therapists
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Dentists
  • Addiction specialists
  • Psychiatrists
  • Osteopaths
  • Rheumatologists

Certification and Licensure

Several agencies conduct examinations for licensed physicians and osteopaths who've completed a 300-hour program in acupuncture. The American Board of Medical Acupuncture (www.dabma.org) awards a Diplomate of the American Board of Medical Acupuncture (DABMA) certificate that is valid for ten years. The American Manual Medicine Association (www.americanmanualmedicine.com) awards national board certification as a Practical Acupuncturist for allied health workers, as well as the Diplomate in Acupuncture status for physicians, nurses, physician assistants or physical therapists. All applicants need to pass the NBCA-AMMA national examination.

Some states license physicians who have completed 300 hours of approved coursework and clinical practice. Other states require the 300 hours as well as passage of a board examination.

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