Alternative medical practices have become increasingly popular in some parts of the United States, and some health insurance plans will even cover acupuncture treatment. Acupuncture is an ancient medical practice thought to have originated in China, but training for a career as an acupuncture technician is still available today.
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Acupuncture technicians are alternative medicine practitioners who insert needles into patients' bodies to alleviate pain associated with certain medical conditions. Many states require that acupuncture technicians complete formal training and obtain licensure.
|Required Education||Option to complete ACAOM-approved formal education programs; apprenticeship programs or hybrid programs|
|Other Requirements||Clean needle course, NCCAOM certification, state licensure|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)||12% for health diagnosing and treating practitioners, all other*|
|Median Salary (2016)||$ 48,735**|
Sources: *US Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale.com
Step 1: Meet Training Requirements
According to the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), the majority of states require that acupuncture technicians pass the NCCAOM examination or obtain NCCAOM certification to legally practice acupuncture (www.nccaom.org). To obtain certification, U.S. applicants have the option to complete formal educational programs approved by The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM), apprenticeship programs or hybrid programs that combine formal education with apprenticeship.
Individuals interested in pursuing the formal educational route should first complete a bachelor's degree program, because the ACAOM solely accredits graduate-level certificate and diploma programs in acupuncture and oriental medicine. Candidates seeking to complete eligibility requirements through an apprenticeship must be prepared to spend 3-6 years completing at least 4,000 hours under the supervision of a licensed or qualifying acupuncturist.
Step 2: Take a Clean Needle Course
To apply for NCCAOM certification, candidates must first take and pass the Clean Needle Technique course administered by the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CCAOM). Completion of the course is a licensure requirement in many states. According to the CCAOM, enrollment is only open to certain individuals - such as acupuncture students or practicing acupuncture technicians (www.ccaom.org). The course covers both theory and application of clean needle techniques and students must pass both written and practical exams.
Step 3: Pass the Certification Examinations
Candidates for NCCAOM certification must pass three licensing examinations: Acupuncture with Point Location, Foundations of Oriental Medicine and Biomedicine. All three exams consist of 100 multiple-choice questions that must be completed within a 2.5-hour timeframe. To take the certification examinations, applicants must first meet eligibility requirements by finishing pre-graduation program requirements, graduating from an accredited degree program or completing an apprenticeship.
Exam registration for the Acupuncture with Point Location and Foundations of Oriental Medicine examinations takes place on a year-round basis, meaning applicants can apply to take the exam at any time during the year. It takes about 10-12 weeks to process an application for testing and 20 business days or less to obtain test results. The Biomedicine exam is administered four times per year, and it takes 30-40 days to receive the results.
Step 4: Obtain State Licensure
Specific acupuncture licensure requirements vary between states, but a combination of education and experience in addition to passing a formal examination and obtaining certification are typical requirements. Depending on the state, applicants can apply for licensure through the medical board, acupuncture board or another state-regulatory board. In some states, individuals who possess certain medical licenses may not have to obtain separate licensure to practice acupuncture. According to data provided by PayScale.com, acupuncturists earned a median annual salary of $48,735 in January, 2016.
While acupuncture and other forms of alternative medicine have not received as wide acceptance in the U.S. as Western medicine, they are gradually being legitimized and are increasingly sought after. Acupuncturists must be trained, licensed and certified before beginning practice. This is particularly important due to the nature of their work - they must always work with sterile needles and must be able to call upon knowledge of acupuncture points and human anatomy.