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Acupuncture School: Learning an Ancient Treatment in a Modern Era

What do skin rashes, dementia, diarrhea, and stroke have in common? They're all diseases that can be cured by acupuncture, according to a study conducted by Chinese medical researcher Du Yuanhao. Du, a doctor with the Chinese Acupuncture Clinic Research Center in Tianjin, concluded that acupuncture can effectively treat 461 different diseases.

While medical research in the West hasn't yet corroborated this impressive figure, some studies increasingly show the value of acupuncture treatments for pain relief, sleep disorders, depression, headaches, and much more.

This is a central reason acupuncture is becoming a mainstream medical treatment, and also a reason that the number of acupuncture schools--and acupuncturists--continues to grow. As of 2009, there were nearly 28,000 licensed acupuncturists in the U.S. Approximately 50 accredited acupuncture schools in the U.S. provide training to future practitioners.

Acupuncture: What Is it?

Dating back more than 2,000 years, acupuncture is based in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The physiological principle underlying TCM is that human energy flows through meridians, which are interconnected pathways in the body. When the flow of energy is obstructed or disrupted, illness and pain result. Acupuncturists use long, thin needles, as well as herbs and carefully targeted massage (acupressure), to stimulate the meridians through specific points on the body and restore balance.

Acupuncture was largely unheard of in the U.S. prior to the 1980s. Today, licensed acupuncturists work in hospitals and medical clinics, as well as in alternative health clinics and private offices, and as researchers. In fact, the U.S. Department of Defense recently awarded a $1.2 million-dollar grant to study the effectiveness of acupuncture in the treatment of Gulf War Illness.

Breaking into the Field: The ABCs of Acupuncture School

Acupuncture is a medical practice, and as such, requires a commitment to a rigorous education. The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) is the main accrediting body for acupuncture schools. To enroll in an ACAOM-accredited school, you must have at least two years of college-level study under your belt; some schools require a bachelor's degree for admission.

Acupuncture school programs typically take three years to complete and lead to a Master of Acupuncture (MAc) or a Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (MAOM). The ACAOM also accredits a Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM) program, which generally takes four years to complete.

Typical acupuncture school classes may include:

  • Meridian pathways
  • TCM theory
  • Point location
  • Chinese nutrition
  • Diagnostic skills
  • Chinese herbal medicine

Acupuncture schools also require a clinical internship, which varies in length. Some states set specific requirements as to the number of clinical hours required.

More than 40 states regulate acupuncture as a licensed medical profession. If you are exploring acupuncture school programs, you want to be sure that you are aware of your state's requirements. Thirty-two states require the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Certification as the basis for licensure, so check to see whether your acupuncture school of choice prepares you for this certification.

Online Acupuncture School Programs

Can you become a licensed acupuncturist online? Not yet, despite the number of programs that appear if you perform a quick Internet search. (Many acupuncture schools based in China offer distance education, but these schools are not accredited in the U.S.) Online acupuncture courses in the U.S. are generally offered to licensed acupuncturists seeking continuing education credits. Other acupuncture school courses provide an introduction to acupuncture and can be a good way for you to explore the field and determine whether acupuncture is the right career for you.

Acupuncture Industry Trends

Is acupuncture a good career choice? Yes, according to a 2009 report from the National Center for Health Statistics. The report found that visits to acupuncturists in 2007 were three times greater than a decade earlier in 1997. Furthermore, more states regulate the practice, which has led to an increase in licensed providers, and insurance coverage for acupuncture treatments is becoming more common. These factors, coupled with a growing public awareness about the benefits of acupuncture, suggest that employment in acupuncture should continue to grow.

Acupuncturist salaries range considerably; someone just starting out may earn $24,000 to $40,000, while experienced acupuncturists with private practices and a large client base can earn over $100,000 per year.

Acupuncture: A Rewarding Career

If you are considering a career in acupuncture, take some time to familiarize yourself with the profession. Experience treatments for yourself, and talk to practicing acupuncturists. Many acupuncturists love their work, and by taking the time to do some research upfront, you can be assured of sharing this passion for a profession that is personally and professionally rewarding.