When I was looking into going to school for acupuncture and Chinese medicine, I was astonished to learn the depth of training and scope of practice for acupuncturists in the United States. I’d been going to acupuncturists for years to care for my own health, but I’d never considered how much training and skill was involved in safely inserting needles into the body or prescribing a proper herbal formula.
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine training programs in the United States are generally 4-year, full-time master’s degree programs (yes, we even go to school in the summer!). Some people will complete their training on an even faster 3-year accelerated track, but it still takes the same number of credits and hours.
Acupuncturists are well trained, so you should feel confident when going to a licensed acupuncturist who attended an NAACOM accredited school. Acupuncturist training includes medical terminology, anatomy and physiology, western pathology, pharmacology, herb-drug interactions, nutrition, orthopedic testing, western medical diagnostic testing such as bloodwork, massage and bodywork, energy exercises like tai chi and of course numerous classes in acupuncture techniques and herbal medicine. In addition to this, acupuncturists complete a clinical internship treating patients under the supervision of an experienced and licensed acupuncturist. At AOMA in Austin, Texas where I attend school, our internship is about 1,000 hours.
It is very important for acupuncturists to be well versed in modern western medicine and anatomy. More and more, acupuncturists are treating complex conditions in the United States, where treatment with a primary care provider might need to be coordinated. In addition, caution with the many pharmaceutical drugs and their potential for interactions with nutrients and herbs are also important to be aware of for the acupuncturist.
Even though entry-level training for acupuncturists is currently a master’s degree, it is likely in the future that this will change to a first-professional doctoral degree. We’ve seen this happen with other fields lately, such as physical therapy. The funny thing is, that the master’s programs in acupuncture are already so robust that few classes will need to be added to bump it up to a doctoral level.
Once an acupuncturist graduates from school and is licensed, the scope of practice in most states includes the following:
• herbal medicine
• massage and bodywork
• energy exercises such as tai chi and qigong
In some states such as California, Arkansas, New Mexico and Florida acupuncturists are considered primary care providers. This means they can order blood work and perform many other duties that your family doctor might.
What do you think? Were you surprised to learn the depth of training that acupuncturists receive? Do you think anything should be added or taken away from acupuncturist training?