Acupuncture Training Programs and Requirements

The Chinese art of acupuncture has been used for centuries to treat a variety of health issues, like back pain, fertility, addiction, depression, anxiety and headaches, using sterile needles in different pressure points. Only a licensed professional in healthcare with an understanding of the bodily systems and anatomy may perform acupuncture treatments. Entry into the field requires a master's degree in acupuncture and state licensing.

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Training Requirements and Recommendations

This type of alternative medicine requires in-depth study of the human body and the physiological effects of the treatment on the body, so many students seeking enrollment into an acupuncture program have a background in medicine, biology, psychology or neurobiology. Applicants to acupuncture programs should have an undergraduate degree; an associate's degree is common, because a bachelor's degree in acupuncture is not typically available.

Other prerequisites for acupuncture programs include current Hepatitis B and tuberculosis skin tests and CPR certification, because students participate in clinical internships. An essay, a letter of recommendation and GRE scores are other common program requirements. The ideal candidate for the acupuncture training program should demonstrate excellent observation, communication and motor skills, be comfortable working independently and have compassion for others.

Formal Education

A master's degree program begins the core educational training for an acupuncturist. Most master's-level acupuncture programs require 3-4 years of study. Eventual licensure in most states is partially dependent on the completion of an acupuncture training program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM), so it's important that prospective students seek out an accredited program.

Master's Programs

The master's degree program trains students in the use of acupuncture instruments and the application of different treatment methods, like cupping, needles, gua sha and moxibustion. For example, when using needles, students learn how to insert the needle into the correct nerve pathway to produce a muscle spasm to relax the muscle; students practice this and other techniques during supervised clinical internships. The Master of Science in Acupuncture program also involves a comprehensive study of the history of traditional Chinese medicine, herbal medicine, pathology, biochemistry, Western medicine, different therapies, nutrition, diagnosis and treatments.

Job Experience

Most of the job experience that a future acupuncturist receives prior to graduation is through the clinical internship portion of the academic program. Interns, under supervision of an experienced professional, learn to consult with a patient, perform a physical examination and arrive at a treatment plan. As an intern in the Master of Science in Acupuncture program, students gain critical thinking skills and problem-solving abilities through clinical rotations in areas such as immune disorders, stress and chronic pain. Acupuncturists often work in health clinics, hospitals, medical centers, private practices and veterinary offices.

Licenses and Certifications

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) is the certifying body for acupuncturists and also the developer of licensure exams. Acupuncturist licenses are state-administered, but most states use the NCCAOM exams; many states also require that applicants achieve NCCAOM certification in order to earn their licenses. Typically, applicants must also fulfill minimum experience requirements to become licensed.

For certification, NCCAOM requires graduation from an ACAOM-accredited program, transcripts and an examination. An official certificate of completion in clean needle technique is also required, but not before taking the examination. Receipt and approval of the documents then certifies the graduate to be a Diplomate in Acupuncture. Recertification takes place every ten years and requires a fee, recertification examination, continuing education courses and a current license in good standing.

Workshops and Seminars

The American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (www.aaaomonline.org) hosts an annual conference where acupuncture professionals can view live demonstrations, attend lectures from physicians and network with other professionals. The Society for Acupuncture Research (www.acupunctureresearch.org) hosts a research conference for practitioners to educate them on strategies for care, effective techniques and new research findings. The conference involves interactive demonstrations, symposiums and keynote lectures.

Additional Professional Development

Acupuncture students may also chat with other students and professionals through online forums, such as the one on the Acupuncture Today website (www.acupuncturetoday.com). The Acupuncture Network (www.acupuncturenetwork.org) is another online resource for industry news and discussion.

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