Wednesday, August 1, 2012

What is the minimum standard of education to practice Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine safely and effectively in the United States?


Education standard for “Expert” in the field of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

Eastern philosophy and Western philosophy are as different as miso soup is to apple pie.  Hence, systems of medicine based on each of these philosophies are just as different.  If I am trained as an expert in Western philosophy, that is my field of expertise.  If it took me 4 years to attain that expertise, it stands to follow it would take just as long to gain expertise in a philosophy as entirely different and unique as Eastern philosophy.   To be an expert in both philosophies is possible, but as a Western philosopher I would not take just one course of Eastern philosophy and say I am also an expert at that.  No, I am a Western philosopher with an interest in Eastern philosophy.


The same goes for the related medicines and medical training.  If I want to practice modern medicine in the United States, I attend medical school to become an MD or DO.  If I want to practice Traditional Asian Medicine in the United States, I attend graduate medical school to become an MSA or MSAOM.  As a practitioner of Traditional Asian Medicine (acupuncturist), I can take an extra 100 -300 hours of modern medical training because I am interested in the field and I learn more about the ways our modern physicians think about  and practice their medicine.  However, those 100-300 hours do not make me an expert in their field.  Those 100-300 hours do not qualify me as an MD or DO.  That time just makes me more informed about their medicine and their practice, not an expert in that field of medicine.


What is the minimum standard of education to be able to practice Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine safely and effectively in the United States?

According to the U.S. Department of Education, the minimum standard of education that is deemed to be acceptable for the safe and effective practice of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is a master’s degree in the field.  Not just any master’s degree, but a degree obtained from a school accredited by the ACAOM (Accreditation Commission on Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine).  After obtaining a master’s degree in the field from an accredited school, a student must pass the Clean Needle Technique course (a nationally standardized needle safety class) to be eligible to sit for the national board exam.


What must a student of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine go through to be eligible to sit for the National Board Exam?

The National Board Exam for this field is created by the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission on Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine).


To qualify to take the NCCAOM exam, a student must

a.        Meet the education and training criteria standards established by the ACAOM

b.      Meet the academic standards and professional competencies as set forth by the ACAOM

c.       Successfully complete the Clean Needle Technique course as given by the Council of Colleges for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine

d.      Have his or her educational transcripts verified through an NCCAOM approved agency



Once a student passes all his or her board exams, he or she is a nationally board certified “diplomate”.  A practitioner may take a series of board exams to qualify for the following board certifications:

Diplomate in Oriental Medicine (inclusive of all board exams; can practice acupuncture, Oriental Medicine, and Chinese Herbal Medicine)

Diplomate in Acupuncture (can practice Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine but has not taken the board exam for Chinese Herbology)

Diplomate in Chinese Herbology (someone who already has a Dipl. in Acupuncture who added on Chinese herbal medicine at a later date)

After graduating from an accredited master’s degree program in the field and passing the national board exam, a practitioner must follow the rules for licensing in their field as set forth by the state they want to practice within.  Department of Health licensing and political scope of practice varies a little from state to state, as with any regulated profession.


MD = physician of modern medicine, based on the allopathic tradition
DO = physician of modern medicine, based on the osteopathic tradition
MSA = master of science in acupuncture
MSAOM = master of science in acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
ACAOM = Accreditation Commission on Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
NCCAOM = National Certification Commission on Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine


Related blog posts:


What are the National Standards for Practicing Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine?

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