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How to Become an Acupuncturist

By Anita Akpuoforba

Published:

Are you interested in exploring a career that combines holistic healing, wellness, and a deep understanding of the human body? Acupuncture offers a unique opportunity to make a positive impact on people’s well-being by harnessing the body’s natural healing abilities.

So, if you’re interested in learning how to become an acupuncturist, here’s your comprehensive guide.

Career Summary

Acupuncturist Salary

Acupuncturist Salary

According to Glassdoor, the average acupuncturist salary in the United States is US$118,983 per year. However, it can vary depending on a number of factors, including experience, location, and work setting.

For example, acupuncturists in private practice typically earn more than those in hospitals or clinics. Additionally, acupuncturists who live in major metropolitan areas tend to earn more than those who live in rural areas.

Here is a breakdown of an acupuncturist salary by experience level:

  • Entry Salary (US$89k)
  • Median Salary (US$119k)
  • Executive Salary (US$159k)

When compared with the national average of salary earners in the United States, an acupuncturist salary is considered high and among the top 10% of earners in the country.

What does an Acupuncturist do?

An acupuncturist is a healthcare professional who uses tiny needles to stimulate specific points on a person’s body to help people feel better, reduce pain, and improve their overall health. This therapeutic practice proves effective in addressing diverse conditions such as migraines, digestive issues, and stress-related ailments. As part of their job description, they conduct initial consultations with patients to understand their needs and develop and implement treatment plans.

Acupuncturist Career Progression

  • Entry-Level Acupuncturist: After learning how to become an acupuncturist, most individuals start their careers working in an entry-level position, such as at a clinic or spa. They will typically be responsible for providing acupuncture treatments to patients as well as educating them about the benefits of acupuncture and self-care.
  • Lead Acupuncturist: As acupuncturists gain experience, they may be promoted to more senior positions, such as lead acupuncturist or clinic director. In these roles, they will take on more responsibility for supervising other acupuncturists and may also start to specialize in a particular area of acupuncture.
  • Private Practitioner: Many acupuncturists choose to open their own private practice. This allows them to have more control over their work schedule and patient base. It also gives them the opportunity to offer a wider range of services, such as herbal medicine and massage.
  • Teaching and Research: Some acupuncturists choose to pursue careers in teaching or research. They teach at acupuncture schools or may conduct research on the effectiveness of acupuncture for different conditions.
Acupuncturist Career Progression

Pros and Cons of Working as an Acupuncturist

Pros:

  • Flexible schedules offer work-life balance for practitioners.
  • Professional autonomy and opportunities for growth.
  • Rewarding career with a positive impact.
  • Strong patient relationships lead to more effective treatments.
  • Diverse specializations allow flexibility in acupuncture practice.

Cons:

  • Standing and repetitive motions may cause fatigue.
  • Earnings may fluctuate due to irregular client flow.
  • Acquiring qualifications can be costly and time-consuming.
  • Not all policies cover acupuncture treatments.

Useful Skills to Have as an Acupuncturist

  • Manual Dexterity
  • Holistic Thinking
  • Anatomy Knowledge
  • Time Management
  • Effective Communication and Empathy

Popular Acupuncturist Specialties

  • Pain Management
  • Fertility and Reproductive Health
  • Stress Reduction and Mental Health
  • Cosmetic Acupuncture
  • Oncology Acupuncture
  • Addiction and Behavioral Health
  • Digestive Health

How to become an Acupuncturist

Acupuncturist 4 Steps to Career

Before acupuncture gained popularity in the United States, individuals who wanted to know how to learn acupuncture consulted traditional healers. Nowadays, becoming an acupuncturist entails formal education, attending an acupuncture school, obtaining an acupuncture certification and other necessary licensing. Without these qualifications, one cannot legally practice acupuncture.

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

Most acupuncture schools have a prerequisite for applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree. Hence, obtaining one is advisable to broaden your options for admission to acupuncture programs.

The preferred programs for a bachelor’s degree often include biology, anatomy, physiology, or other related fields under biological sciences. These programs provide in-depth knowledge about the human body’s structure and functioning, which is valuable for understanding acupuncture principles and practice.

The median degree cost is US$19,000, which goes much higher if you are an out-of-state student or you choose to study at a private university. Additionally, you will typically spend four years completing a bachelor’s degree.

Step 2: Complete an Accredited Acupuncture Program

After completing a bachelor’s degree, you can proceed to an accredited acupuncture school to acquire the strong clinical skills needed in the profession and earn a Master of Acupuncture or Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Some of these schools also offer a path for those with no prior degree, giving them a combined bachelor’s/master’s option.

For the former, it takes approximately three years to complete. Meanwhile, the latter takes four years and will require you to take some prerequisite courses before starting your acupuncture coursework. You can also choose to further your education by earning a doctorate degree, which will take another four years to complete.

The tuition for accredited acupuncture programs varies, typically falling within the range of $40,000 to $70,000 for the complete training. Several programs determine their tuition based on a per-credit-hour cost.

Can I Become an Acupuncturist Through Online Education?

Becoming an acupuncturist through online education alone is not possible. While there are online resources and programs that will show you how to learn acupuncture, they do not provide the clinical component, which is a fundamental part of your education.  Furthermore, the licensing process necessitates graduation from an accredited acupuncture program – a qualification that online programs typically lack.

Web Resources to Learn Skills to Become an Acupuncturist

Step 3: Gain Clinical Experience (Complete Internship)

After learning how to become an acupuncturist, you must gain hands-on experience via internship opportunities. This experience is part of the requirements that will be needed for your certification.

What Internship Opportunities Are Available for an Acupuncturist?

  • Private Practice Internship: Here, you’ll gain hands-on experience in a real-world setting, providing treatments to patients under the guidance of an experienced practitioner. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn the business side of running an acupuncture clinic while honing your clinical skills.
  • Acupuncture Clinic Internship: Specialized acupuncture clinics provide internships for acupuncturists interested in refining their skills in a focused clinical environment. You’ll work with a variety of patients seeking specific treatments, which can deepen your expertise in addressing particular health concerns.
  • Community Health Center Internship: Community health centers often provide acupuncture services to individuals who may not have easy access to healthcare. As an intern, you’ll contribute to improving the well-being of the community while developing your clinical proficiency.
  • Hospital Internship: Hospitals occasionally offer internships to acupuncturists interested in working in a hospital setting. This unique opportunity allows you to integrate acupuncture into conventional healthcare practices. You may collaborate with medical teams, providing complementary care to patients with various medical conditions.
  • Research Institution Internship: Here, you can contribute to acupuncture-related studies and clinical trials, gaining experience in the field of acupuncture research and potentially shaping the future of this holistic practice.

What Skills Will I Learn as an Acupuncturist?

  • Acupuncture Techniques: You will master the art of acupuncture, including needling techniques, point location, and meridian theory. This skill is fundamental to your practice as an acupuncturist.
  • Herbal Medicine Knowledge: Acupuncturists often use herbal remedies in conjunction with acupuncture. You will learn about traditional Chinese herbs, their properties, and how to prescribe and prepare herbal treatments.
  • Diagnostic Skills: Acupuncturists use diagnostic methods such as pulse-taking, tongue diagnosis, and patient interviews to assess imbalances and develop treatment plans.
  • Traditional Chinese Medicine Principles: You will gain a deep understanding of traditional Chinese medicine concepts, including yin and yang, qi (vital energy), and the Five Elements theory.
  • Treatment planning: This includes developing individualized treatment plans for patients based on their needs and conditions.
  • Patient Communication: Effective communication is key to understanding patients’ needs, explaining treatment plans, and building strong practitioner-patient relationships.
  • Safety and Hygiene Practices: You’ll learn strict safety and hygiene protocols to ensure a clean and safe treatment environment.
  • Patient Record-Keeping: Maintaining accurate and confidential patient records is a legal and ethical responsibility of acupuncturists.

Step 4: Obtain Certification and Pass Licensing

NCCAOM Certification

All acupuncturists must be certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). The institute offers the following certificates: Diplomate of Acupuncture, Diplomate of Chinese Herbology, and Diplomate of Oriental Medicine.

The NCCAOM certification exam can be taken up to 3 times per year, in January, May, and September, after an applicant must have completed a supervised clinical internship. Applicants are required to take all or some of the following board exams: Foundations of Oriental Medicine (FOM), Acupuncture with Point Location (ACPL), Chinese Herbology (CH), and Biomedicine (BIO). The cost of the exam varies depending on the exams you are taking, but it is typically around US$500 per exam.

After earning the certification, diplomates must renew their certification every four years and are expected to maintain their status by participating in Professional Development Activities (PDA). A Diplomate who fails to renew by the expiration date will lose access to all benefits and services associated with the NCCAOM certification.

Clean Needle Technique Certificate

This is a prerequisite for the NCCAOM certificate. The Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Herbal Medicine’s (CCAHM) Clean Needle Technique (CNT) course is NCCAOM-approved. The format for administration includes a proctored online written exam and a practical exam, which can be taken as many times as needed.

The cost of the CNT certificate varies depending on the organization that offers the course, but it is typically around US$200. It is typically recommended that acupuncturists renew their certificates every three years.

State Licensing

Similar to other medical professions, licensure for acupuncturists is regulated on a state-by-state basis. As a new practitioner, you will need to apply directly to the board in your state to obtain your professional license.

Before applying for an acupuncture license, you must meet all the specified education and certification requirements outlined in the previous sections. If your application is based on credits obtained from courses in a country where English is not the primary language, you must also demonstrate your proficiency in English.

What’s the Career Outlook for Acupuncturists?

Employment of acupuncturists is projected to grow 10% from 2018 to 2028, much faster than the average for all occupations. There are several reasons for the positive career outlook for acupuncturists. First, public awareness of acupuncture and its benefits as a safe and effective treatment for a variety of conditions is increasing.

Second, there is a growing demand for complementary and alternative medicine. More and more people are looking for alternative ways to improve their health and well-being that don’t require modern drugs or methods. However, the demand for acupuncture services will vary by location. Urban areas and regions with a strong focus on holistic and integrative healthcare tend to have higher demand.

Acupuncturist Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities for an Acupuncturist?

  • Traditional Acupuncturists: These practitioners offer general acupuncture services and address a wide range of health issues, focusing on restoring balance and harmony in the body’s energy systems.
  • Medical Acupuncturists: These acupuncturists often have a background in Western medicine and use acupuncture as a complementary therapy to address specific medical conditions, such as pain management or post-operative recovery.
  • Acupuncture Specialists by Condition: Acupuncturists can specialize in treating specific conditions, such as pain management, fertility, stress, mental health, or women’s health. They tailor their treatments to address these particular issues.
  • Auricular Acupuncturists: These practitioners primarily use acupuncture points on the ear (auricular acupuncture) to treat various conditions. It is often used for addiction recovery and mental health issues.
  • Pediatric Acupuncturists: These acupuncturists specialize in providing acupuncture for children, addressing conditions that affect younger patients in a gentle and age-appropriate manner.
  • Sports Acupuncturist: Acupuncturists specializing in sports medicine may work with athletes to enhance performance, manage pain, and support injury recovery.
  • Cosmetic Acupuncturists: These practitioners focus on facial rejuvenation and use acupuncture to promote skin health and reduce the signs of aging.
  • Korean Hand Acupuncturists: This form of acupuncture uses hand acupressure and acupuncture to diagnose and treat health issues.
  • Veterinary Acupuncturist: Veterinary acupuncturists treat animals, including pets and livestock, using acupuncture techniques to support their well-being.

What Types of Companies Hire  Acupuncturists?

  • Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities: Some hospitals and healthcare institutions have integrated complementary and alternative medicine departments, where acupuncturists work alongside conventional medical practitioners.
  • Rehabilitation and Wellness Centers: Acupuncturists may be hired in rehabilitation centers and wellness centers to support patients recovering from injuries or surgeries and provide holistic healthcare services.
  • Veterinary Clinics: Veterinary acupuncturists treat animals, and they may work in veterinary clinics specializing in acupuncture for pets and livestock.
  • Educational Institutions: Acupuncture schools and universities hire experienced acupuncturists as educators and instructors to teach students pursuing degrees in acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine.
  • Sports Teams and Athletic Organizations: Acupuncturists with a specialization in sports medicine may work with sports teams and athletes to improve performance, manage injuries, and aid in recovery.
  • Research Institutions: Research acupuncturists can work in research institutions and universities, conducting studies and clinical trials related to acupuncture.
  • Chiropractic Clinics: Chiropractors may employ acupuncturists to provide complementary care for their patients.
  • Nonprofit and Holistic Healthcare Organizations: Some nonprofit organizations and holistic healthcare institutions hire acupuncturists to provide complementary therapies and promote well-being in the community.

What is the Work-Life Balance of an Acupuncturist?

Overall, an acupuncturist’s work-life balance is quite good compared to the demands of other medical professions. It is influenced by their practice setting, patient load, personal preferences, and self-care practices.

For example, acupuncturists who work in private practice often have more flexibility in terms of their work hours and schedule. They may be able to set their own hours and choose how many days a week they want to work. Meanwhile, acupuncturists who work in clinics or hospitals typically have more structured work hours. They may be required to work full-time and may be on call for emergencies.

If you are new to the field, you may need to work longer hours in order to garner more experience and build a reputation. As you become more experienced, you may be able to reduce your work hours and have a better work-life balance.

Tips to Advance Your Career as an Acupuncturist

By following the tips listed below and staying dedicated to your practice, you can have long-term success in the field of acupuncture.

  • Get Involved in the Acupuncture Community: There are many acupuncture organizations and associations that you can join. Getting involved in these organizations is a great way to meet other acupuncturists, learn about new opportunities, and advocate for the acupuncture profession.
  • Specialize in a Particular Area of Acupuncture: There are many different areas of specialization in acupuncture, such as pain management, women’s health, and geriatrics. Specializing in a particular area can help you to attract more patients and become a more sought-after acupuncturist.
  • Market Your Practice: It is important to market your acupuncture practice if you want to attract new patients. You can market your practice through a variety of channels, such as online advertising, social media, and networking.
  • Provide Excellent Patient Care: The best way to advance your career as an acupuncturist is to provide excellent patient care. This means taking the time to listen to your patients, developing personalized treatment plans, and providing them with the support they need.
  • Research and Publish: Engage in research related to acupuncture and publish your findings. Contributing to the body of knowledge in your field can boost your reputation and career prospects.

Should I become an Acupuncturist?

Deciding whether to become an acupuncturist is a significant choice that depends on your passion, values, and career goals.

Consider the following questions:

  •     Are you interested in traditional Chinese medicine and holistic healing?
  •     Do you have the patience and compassion to help people?
  •     Are you willing to commit to the necessary education and training?

If you have answered yes to the above questions, then you have the right mindset that would help you learn how to become an acupuncturist. You can then proceed to research accredited acupuncture programs in your area and talk to licensed acupuncturists about their experiences in the field. This will further help you to make an informed decision about whether or not acupuncture is the right career path for you.

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Anita Akpuoforba

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