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The Profession of Oriental Medicine

Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) is one of the oldest continuous systems of medicine in history, with recorded instances dating as far back as two thousand years. This is in sharp contrast to the American or Western forms of health care, which have been in existence for some 150 years.

Traditional Oriental medicine is a major healthcare system for over one quarter of the world's population. However, the origin and development of the profession of Oriental medicine in the United States has occurred only in the last few decades. In its early stages, the profession established the certification, accreditation, and licensure structures to move the profession forward.

This goal has been largely achieved as reflected in the adoption of licensure laws in virtually all states; the recognition of the field as a viable health care modality in the U.S.; and the growing number of third-party payers that offer insurance coverage for Oriental medicine treatments. The National Institutes of Health recognize the usefulness of acupuncture in treating addiction, fibromyalgia, headaches, cramps, back pain, osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel, asthma, and more.


Currently, over 12,000 students are enrolled in some 50 acupuncture and Oriental medical colleges in the United States. According to the American Association of Oriental Medicine, there are currently over 22,671 licensed acupuncture practitioners in the U.S. In addition, the majority of U.S. medical schools now offer courses on complementary medicine as well. Employment in the alternative therapy and non-mainstream medicine fields (which also includes podiatry, chiropractic, and more) is expected to increase by 48.8% from 2002-2012.

Alternative healthcare is seeing a jump in patient visits, partially due to a growing awareness in the importance of staying healthy in order to be happier and to ward of illness before it starts. In the United States there is increasing public awareness of and demand for complementary medicine, including Oriental medicine. A 2002 NIH survey found that about 8.2 million American adults have used acupuncture, and that 2.1 million had used it in the previous year.

Reflecting this public demand, the number of the nation's insurers covering acupuncture treatments almost tripled between 1992 and 2001, rising from 5,525 to 14,228 and the budget of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, (a part of the National Institutes of Health), exploded from $2 million in 1993 to $114 million in 2003. According to a nationwide government survey released in December 2008, approximately 38 percent of U.S. adults aged 18 years and over and approximately 12 percent of children use some form of CAM.

Here are some striking statistics:

  • Approximately 42% of all Americans are using complementary therapies, spending more than $34 billion annually. This is comparable to all out-of-pocket expenditures for physician visits and exceeds out-of-pocket expenditures for all hospitalizations. (Journal of the American Medical Association)
  • Nearly one out of every 10 adults in the U.S has tried acupuncture. (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine)
  • More than one in four Americans report having had a massage from a massage therapist in the past five years, spending a total of between $4 and $6 billion on 114 million visits each year. (Massage Magazine)
  • In recent years, massage therapy has reached some of the nations' top hospitals, including Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York and Stanford Hospital in California. Fifteen percent of hospitals now offer Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) therapies and almost 60% of medical schools offer courses in CAM. (American Hospital Association)
  • Acupuncture has been cited by the World Health Organization (WHO) to treat over forty-three conditions. The 2008 National Institutes of Health (NIH) Consensus Conference on Acupuncture stated that even more ailments have been discovered to be treatable with acupuncture, "Promising results have emerged, for example, showing efficacy of acupuncture in adult postoperative and chemotherapy nausea and vomiting and in postoperative dental pain...." (WHO & NIH)
  • Modalities such as Oriental medicine have emerged in the U.S. as a sensible alternative to the more commonly practiced, and frequently more expensive, conventional Western medical practices. In 2007, The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine found, "In the United States, approximately 38 percent of adults (about 4 in 10) and approximately 12 percent of children (about 1 in 9) are using some form of CAM. Significant increases have been found in the percentage of people using the most common CAM therapies and therapies between 2002 and 2007."

Doctors, researchers, scientists, insurance companies, and patients alike are coming to the same conclusion: that although still relatively new to the United States, the growing field Oriental medicine has survived the test of time and is effective in treating illness.