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October 5, 2021

How do you become a Licensed Acupuncturist?

hands giving acupuncture treatment
Every Acupuncturist has an origin story. You can ask any of us about the treatment or series of moments that led us to the big, scary thought “I want to be an Acupuncturist.” We had already asked our Acupuncturist why they look at our tongues or why some points feel spicier than others, we’d listened to podcasts about East Asian Medicine or maybe even read The Web That Has No Weaver, we’d tried some meditative practices, and stacks of books about herbalism and the energetic body threatened to topple over on our nightstands. Some of us took Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College’s Introduction to East Asian Medicine course just to peek a little further.

And then maybe we looked up some information about the career. We discovered that according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics all signs look good with the mean annual wage for Acupuncturists at $97,270 in 2020 and growth in the field. We read about the VA & hospitals hiring acupuncturists, and expanding insurance and Medicare coverage for Acupuncture. We were ready.

So what’s next for the curious-Acupuncture-fan-turned-wannabe-Acupuncturist? First, you have to choose the right school & program for you. A Masters or Doctorate of Acupuncture is a 3 to 4 year degree, so do your research & see what feels right for you. After earning your degree, each state has its own regulations around licensure & practice.

Choosing a School

Finding the right Acupuncture school for you requires some time and investigation. It’s helpful to create your list of priorities in a school. My priority list in choosing an Acupuncture Medicine College includes a friendly, supportive community, affordability, highly experienced faculty, strong herbal training, and located in the beautiful Bay Area.

Some questions to consider:

  • Are you open to moving for the right school?
  • Are you looking for a more friendly or competitive environment?
  • If you will be working, what options does the school provide for part-time, working students?
  • What financial aid & scholarship opportunities does the school offer?
  • How much experience does the teaching staff have in both the arenas of teaching & clinical practice?
  • What are your career goals as an Acupuncturist & does the school have Faculty or Alumni role models for that kind of practice?
  • How successful are Alumni on their Licensing Exams & in their careers?
  • What internship or study abroad opportunities does the school offer?

Any school that you’re considering should have ACAOM accreditation information on their website, or you can look up their accreditation status here. If your ultimate goal is to practice Acupuncture in the state of California, check to make sure that the schools you’re considering are approved by the California Acupuncture Board so that you can sit for the California Acupuncture Licensing Exam.

To get a feel for the school environment and quality of the education, we always recommend sitting in on classes and visiting the Student Clinic of the schools you’re considering. Usually, the Admissions Team can set up these visits for you.

Study, Study, Study

From day one of school, Acupuncture students dive into multiple modes of medicine. They learn to converse in and understand the language of Western Medicine and evaluate and treat patients in the language of East Asian Medicine.

Major Subjects of Study:

  • Foundations of East Asian Medicine
  • Diagnostic Skills & Treatment Planning
  • Acupuncture & Treatment Techniques
  • Herbology*
  • Western & Integrative Medicine

*Not all Acupuncture programs teach Herbology. If that’s a specific area of interest, double check the curriculum & title of the Degree to ensure you’re getting the well-rounded knowledge you’re looking for. All California-approved schools must teach Herbology as part of the degree.

As a multi-faceted medicine, Acupuncture school involves some rote memorization, some embodied, kinesthetic learning, and a chunk of personal growth and development. We memorize anatomy, acupuncture point locations and functions, and herbal properties. We practice Qi Gong & massage techniques to gain an embodied knowledge of East Asian Medicine. And, no matter what age we are or professional background we come from, we all find that there is an aspect of personal evolution that East Asian Medicine school unlocks in us. Learning happens on all levels– body, mind, and spirit– in the East Asian Medicine classroom.

Getting Licensed

Once you’ve got your Acupuncture medicine degree in hand, there’s a little more to do before you start building your private practice, join a Community Clinic, or apply for jobs. Every state has its own regulations on the practice of Acupuncture. Check the NCCAOM State Licensure Requirements Map to learn about the variety of regulations from state to state. In California, to-be Acupuncturists are required to take the California Acupuncture Licensing Exam. Some other states require a combination of 3 or 4 of the NCCAOM Examinations or NCCAOM Certification.

Then, it’s off to the races for the career of your dreams! To see the array of creative possibilities for a career in Acupuncture, read up about our Alumni in our Alumni Spotlights.

Study at AIMC

woman waters lush, flowering garden in front of AIMC Berkeley
Ready to start your journey into holistic & integrative medicine and curious if AIMC is the right place for you? Take our quiz and explore our Master’s and Doctorate programs, and financial aid options. Attend our next Open House to learn more, ask questions, & have your application fee waived!

About the Author

White woman with wide brim straw hat on holds a white and brown dog and smiles in front of snowy mount and frozen lake scene on a sunny dayAlly Magill is a recent AIMC graduate with a background in birthwork as a labor and postpartum doula, outdoor education, and the management of thriving community acupuncture clinics. Her mission in her practice and life is to co-create a world where individuals and families are living into their own epic radiance and embodied wellness. She studied Five Element Acupuncture at the Maryland University of Integrative Health before joining AIMC for the herbal & integrative medicine portion of her Master’s degree. She has had the opportunity to study the teachings of Daoist master Jeffrey Yuen through his students & incorporates Classical Chinese Medicine into her practice.

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