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. 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.
Master's degree programs prefer candidates with some college, preferably two years, but only require a GED or high school diploma. The typical program duration for a master's degree program is 3-4 years and may include an apprenticeship.
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 requires as many as 2,500 hours of class-work 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.
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 and Chinese herbology
- Pressure points and meridian pathways
- Dermal and neural anatomy
- Needle manipulation styles and pharmacology of injectable medications
- Musculo-skeletal evaluation
- Moxibustion (burning herbs near acupuncture points)
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.
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, osteopaths, rheumatologists
- Physical therapists
- Addiction specialists
Employment Outlook and Salary Info
According to the reports of 227 acupuncturists, collected by Payscale.com, annual salaries for acupuncturists in January 2016 ranged from $27,758 - $81,152. The median salary was $48,735.
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.
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.
Students who want to pursue a career as an acupuncturist can elect to pursue a master's degree or post-graduate certification program. After graduation, students may choose to advance their education even further by obtaining certification via organizations such as ABMA or AMMA.