How to Become an Acupuncturist in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for acupuncturists. Get the facts about education, salary, licensing requirements and potential job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Complementary & Alternative Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does an Acupuncturist Do?

Acupuncturists practice a form of alternative medicine where they treat pain by placing needles in specific points in the body. As an acupuncturist, you'll need a good understanding of anatomy and how to use medical equipment, including filiform and intradermal needles. You'll interview, examine, diagnose and treat patients. Understanding and following laws related to infection control and safety is important in this profession.

The following chart provides an overview about becoming an acupuncturist.

Degree Required Master's or doctoral degree
Field of Study Acupuncture and Oriental medicine
Key Responsibilities Treat patients using acupuncture techniques; assess patient's skin and tissue to properly place needles; take medical histories
Certification or Licensing Some states require acupuncturists to be medical doctors or chiropractors; most states require acupuncturists to be licensed; professional certification is available
Median Salary (2016) $49,650*

Source: *

What Is an Acupuncturist?

Acupuncture is a system of healing based on the practice of needling, which is the strategic placement of needles at various points on the body in an effort to alleviate and eliminate chronic pain and treat many ailments. Acupuncturists may also use other forms of treatment, such as herbs and suggested diet changes. Many acupuncturists work in holistic health centers or have a private practice.

Step 1: Researching an Acupuncturist's Career Duties and Education

Acupuncturists balance the body's health by puncturing the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles. The technique balances the yin and the yang, where yin represents the cold, slow or passive principle while yang represents the hot, excited or active principle. You can use these techniques to reduce specific pains in the body. Some colleges and universities offer master's and doctoral programs in acupuncture, which fulfill the requirements for licensure in most states.

Step 2: Get Educated

Alternative medicine schools offer courses or degrees for acupuncturists, and some colleges and universities have programs in the field. You can learn about meridian theory, therapeutic techniques and equipment, clinical strategies and methodologies, functions and indications, point location and needle manipulation in acupuncture treatment. The most common degrees are a Master of Science in Acupuncture or a Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. A few schools offer Doctor of Acupuncture Oriental Medicine (DAOM)) programs. Degree programs prepare graduates to qualify for licensure, which requires you to graduate from a program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM).

Step 3: Become Licensed as an Acupuncturist

Most states require you to obtain licensure before you can practice acupuncture; however, these requirements vary from state to state. Most states accept certification from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), which can take you 3-5 years to earn. Some states, including California and Texas, require additional clinical or academic hours. Other states stipulate that students pass the Clean Needle Technique (CNT) exam administered by Council of College of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CCAOM). Last of all, many states specify that a student interested in becoming an acupuncturist must study to become a chiropractor or medical doctor first.

Step 4: Get a Job Practicing Acupuncture

Many acupuncturists are self-employed and take referrals from doctors and alternative medicine professionals. They may also work directly with chiropractors or for oriental medicine centers. Some medical doctors and chiropractors use acupuncture as a treatment in their practices.

Step 5: Become a Primary Care Practitioner as an Acupuncturist

Some insurance companies include acupuncture as a covered treatment. They generally pay for acupuncture treatments for chronic muscle pain, stress, PMS and other common pain symptoms. As insurance companies become more open to alternative medicine, career opportunities for acupuncturists will increase.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Massage therapists are similar to acupuncturists, and this job typically requires a postsecondary training program and a license, depending upon the state. Individuals in this profession use massage therapy to help clients relax and relieve pain, and they can work in a variety of settings, such as spas or fitness centers. One may also consider pursuing a Doctor of Chiropractic program to become a chiropractor. These professionals treat neuromusculoskeletal and spine health problems using techniques that may include massage therapy, spinal adjustments and manipulation.

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