5 Questions to Consider If You Want to be an Acupuncturist

By Truong Le - December 29, 2021

In traditional Chinese medicine, acupuncture is a treatment for regulating the flow of energy or life force — known as chi or qi (pronounced “chee”) — thought to flow via channels (meridians) throughout your body. Acupuncture practitioners believe you can rebalance your energy flow by placing needles into specific spots along these meridians.

Western practitioners take a slightly different view of the practice. They believe inserting very thin needles through the skin at key points in the body stimulates nerves, boosting the body’s natural pain response.

However you define it, there is a growing need for acupuncturists in the U.S. Jobs in this field are projected to grow by as much as 13.3% in ten years, opening up a number of opportunities for employment. As public knowledge and acceptance of acupuncture grows and more insurance companies cover acupuncture services, average job growth in this field should remain stable.

Alternative medicine centers and collaborative practices with regular doctors or chiropractors will be in high demand. Self-employed and independent practitioners are increasingly expanding their companies through collaboration with other natural healing specialists such as massage therapists and naturopaths. The rising demand for acupuncturists matches the public interest in holistic health treatments.

Still, even with renewed interest in this growing field, clearly, there are questions if you are considering it as a career choice. What are some things you should consider before studying acupuncture?

1. What Is an Acupuncturist?

An acupuncturist is a healthcare professional with training in acupuncture. They learn to penetrate the skin with thin needles to treat pain and other medical problems. They then activate the needles with gentle movement or electrical stimulation.

Studies from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) show acupuncture as a successful treatment, either alone or in conjunction with conventional medicines. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) sponsors research to assess the effectiveness of acupuncture for various types of pain and other illnesses and to better understand how the body responds to it. Some recent NCCIH-supported research covers:

  • If acupuncture can lower the frequency of menopausal hot flashes
  • Whether acupuncture may help with the pain and discomfort that may result from chemotherapy
  • Objectively determining if true acupuncture is more successful than simulated acupuncture or standard treatment for pain alleviation, and if so, by how much

Acupuncture has been proven effective for conditions such as:

  • Nausea related to chemotherapy
  • Dental pain
  • Headaches
  • Addiction
  • Menstrual cramps
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Low back pain
  • Tennis elbow
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Asthma

There is some evidence that it might also help to support stroke rehabilitation. This growing list of studies indicates that the body’s reaction to acupuncture includes neurochemical changes that may aid in the relief of chronic pain, including low back pain, neck pain, osteoarthritis pain, and fibromyalgia-related pain.

Not all acupuncturists use needles, though. There are alternatives to this practice that use different forms of stimulation over acupuncture points, including:

  • Heat (known as moxibustion)
  • Friction
  • Pressure (known as acupressure)
  • Suction (known as cupping)
  • Electromagnetic energy

Any one of these processes could help patients alone or in combination with the traditional needles used by acupuncturists.

2. Why Do You Want to be an Acupuncturist?

The study of acupuncture is the study of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The reasons why someone would study this science vary from student to student, as it would with most professions.

Perhaps it is the fact this holistic approach to medicine provides you with an opportunity to fill a demand and help people at the same time, or that job growth in this field means more career stability and job flexibility.

Many individuals with acupuncture degrees also value the freedom and self-determination that comes with choosing their own schedules and working when it is convenient for them — whether it is to meet a hectic family schedule or other life responsibilities. Often acupuncturists run a private practice, allowing them to build a strong client base to support their work. It is an excellent choice for anyone who wants to run their own healthcare business and focus their practice on natural healing.

There are also mobile acupuncture practices where the acupuncturist goes to a home or business to provide treatment. This route cuts back on overhead costs of maintaining an office.

If you are not looking to manage your own business, acupuncture is still a practical career choice. Mainstream healthcare networks employ acupuncturists, too. For instance, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic, and Johns Hopkins Hospital all have acupuncturists on staff. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual salary for acupuncturists ranges from $43,000 to $160,000.

3. How Long is Acupuncture School?

Since acupuncture often requires an acupuncture masters degree, your acupuncture education starts with obtaining an undergraduate degree, possibly in a related field such as massage therapy, yoga, or public health. Once you complete that study and graduate, you can apply to pursue your master’s or doctorate at an accredited acupuncture school. You can expect to spend three to five years studying traditional Chinese medicine and acupuncture.

A state-issued license is necessary for most areas for acupuncturists to practice. Only a few states require federal clearance before issuing a license.

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) provides certification in the United States. To be considered, you must have finished or be enrolled in a recognized course. Check to see if the NCCAOM accredits the institution you’re considering for acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine before applying.

To qualify and be licensed to practice, you must generally pass the NCCAOM test. Acupuncturists are licensed as “Acupuncture Physicians” or “Doctors of Oriental Medicine” in various jurisdictions in the United States. Most states, however, give the designation of “Licensed Acupuncturist” (LAc).

4. Is Acupuncture School Difficult?

Like any career choice, having certain traits can make studying acupuncture easier. A candidate for acupuncture school does not need prior medical experience or knowledge. They should be willing to learn and dedicate their study to what is a complex system of medicine, though. Acupuncture is a science that requires a lifetime of learning. So, once you graduate, you will need to be willing to continue your education even as you practice.

A natural affinity for science and anatomy will help, as well. You must develop a practical understanding of acupuncture points, which are anatomically defined areas relative to landmarks on the body. There are more than 2,000 acupuncture points in traditional Chinese medicine, with meridians or pathways that connect them.

Stimulation of these acupuncture points may trigger the central nervous style to release chemicals into the brain, spinal cord, and muscles. This creates biochemical changes that promote physical healing and a sense of well-being. Improper placement of acupuncture needles, though, can cause pain.

An acupuncturist works closely with patients, so good people and communication skills are necessary, too. Someone who wants to pursue this career should also be empathetic and willing to work with people that are often in pain. Understanding the patient and their needs is almost as critical as clinical knowledge of the science.

Training will include both classroom and hands-on clinical experience. Once you complete your study, you will need to apply for your acupuncturist’s license before you can practice.

If you think that a career in acupuncture might be the right choice for you, then now is the time to review your options for training. The best acupuncture training school may not be the most affordable. Still, there are several opportunities available to assist you in financing your study, including federal financial assistance, scholarships, and grants.

5. Are You Ready to Start?

Pacific College of Health and Science offers ACAOM-accredited master’s and doctoral programs in acupuncture. The college also has coveted regional accreditation from WASC’s Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC).

If you want to learn more about Pacific College of Health and Science’s San Diego acupuncture program, New York acupuncture program, or Chicago acupuncture program, please visit admissions or contact us now.

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