Acupuncture Degree: What You’ll Study

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Read tips on choosing an acupuncturist degree program. Find out what type of education is necessary to practice.

What degree levels are available?

Like many other medical careers, an acupuncturist needs a graduate degree to practice. Both master’s, doctorate’s and post-graduate certificates are available from schools across the country.

You’ll likely notice a curious aspect of these master’s degree programs. Many only require two years of undergraduate study and not a full bachelor’s degree. The reason? Some schools roll a bachelor’s and master’s degree into one program.

Every school is different so check their admission requirements to see if a bachelor’s degree from a four-year college or university is necessary.

Topics you will cover in class:

  • Asian bodywork
  • Nutrition
  • Practice management
  • Ethics
  • Needle technique
  • Acupuncture points
  • Western medicine

Students will also find themselves working in clinical settings to gain hands-on experience.

Your program might include acupuncture as part of a larger Oriental medicine program. If that’s the case, you’ll learn:

  • The Zang Fu system of physiology and other elements
  • Food therapy and how to recommend “energetic” foods
  • Tui Na massage
  • Traditional herbs and formulas

An Oriental medicine program will teach you the same principles being taught in universities in China. Students graduate with the skills to develop treatment plans for each patient based on their individual issues.

Master’s Degree Programs

A Master of Science in Acupuncture degree program will include both coursework and clinical experiences.

As an example of coursework for a combination Bachelor of Professional Studies/Master of Science degree in Health Science/Acupuncture, New York College of Health Professions offers the following courses:

  • Fundamental Theory of Oriental Medicine (year 1)
  • Channels and Points I and II (year 1)
  • Asian Bodywork-Amma/Shiatsu/Tui Na (year 1)
  • Eastern and Western Nutrition (year 2)
  • Acupuncture Techniques I and II (year 2)
  • Medical Ethics (year 2)
  • Japanese Acupuncture Diagnostic Methods (year 3)
  • Internal Medicine I and II (year 3)
  • Practice management (year 3)

Doctoral Degree Programs

Doctorate of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine degrees are not required to practice, but if you’re looking for a way to distinguish yourself and be a leader in the field, earning a doctorate can help.

Doctorate programs focus heavily on critical thinking and advanced topics like Chinese medical language. Some schools will also offer doctorates with specializations like reproductive health or family medicine.

Students should understand that these programs are fairly new and many programs are still in the process of being accredited.

What certifications will I need?

Once you earn your degree in acupuncture, you will need to sit for the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) exam. The majority of U.S. states (44) and the District of Columbia require acupuncturists to have this certification to practice. Some states will have additional requirements so check with the appropriate regulatory body.

If you work in a state that doesn’t license acupuncturists as a medical practitioner, you may have to be supervised by a medical or osteopathic doctor.

What will I learn in my courses?

Your acupuncture program will cover a wide breadth of things, but some of the main areas of focus will be:

  • Clinical skills
  • Patient communication
  • Acupuncture point location
  • Acupressure and needling techniques
  • Cupping (pulling blood to the surface of the skin using evacuated cups)
  • Pulse and tongue diagnosis

Because of acupuncture’s base in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), many programs will encourage you to learn how to read Chinese and understand other areas of TCM like herb usage and massage. Western medicine and nutrition is also covered in these programs allowing students to compare the different aspects of each practice.

You’ll also get a lesson on managing your own practice, but if you decide you want more training in business management, you can always enroll in business courses later.

How long will it take?

An acupuncture program usually takes about three years, but can take four if you tack on additional classes for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and herbology.

Programs are designed for working adults, so classes are typically held on Saturdays and one or two evenings during the week.

If you’re planning to attend acupuncture school on a part-time basis, check with your school about the maximum time you have to complete their program.

Are online programs available?

Acupuncture is an ancient practice which requires hands-on experience so you’ll find that almost all programs are taught in a traditional classroom setting.

If you come across an online program, take precaution. The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM)—the main accreditation body for acupuncture schools—has not accredited any distance learning programs.

Accreditation is important as it shows potential employers you have a background and skill set approved by a nationally-recognized organization.

How much will my education cost?

Acupuncture school tuition varies, but costs* can range from $45,000 to $65,000 for a three-year program.

While tuition is certainly not cheap, students have plenty of financial aid options at their disposal. If you aren’t eligible for financial aid, scholarships or grants, some schools are willing to set students up on a payment plan. Here’s another instance where accreditation plays a role. You may not be eligible for federal loans if your school isn’t accredited (and therefore recognized by the U.S. Department of Education).

You’ll also need to put aside some money for certification fees. NCCAOM charges a minimum $475 application fee plus a $900 required exam fee.

Don’t let the cost of schooling discourage you. Acupuncture is a growing field and with hard work, a good salary could be in your future.

*Cost of tuition only. Prices do not reflect other fees.

Are there prerequisites?

Every school is unique in what they require of incoming students, but generally the prerequisites look something like this:

  • A minimum of an associate’s degree from an accredited school OR completion of two years of post-secondary education (60 semester/90 quarter credits)
  • Admissions interview
  • Essay
  • Letters of recommendation
  • GPA of 2.5 or higher in baccalaureate work
  • Copy of transcript from issuing institution

Even if you have a lower GPA than required, don’t walk away. Some acupuncture schools are relatively open-minded and suggest potential students contact their admissions office about fulfilling the appropriate class requirements as part of their program. Some schools will be flexible about admission if you can prove recent professional or academic success.

Students with an associate’s degree or equivalent must show the successfully completed general education courses in topics such as natural science, humanities and written and oral communication.

What accreditation is there for my program?

Schools should be accredited by the ACAOM. This organization sets the standards and policies for acupuncture programs to follow.

While accreditation is important as a validation of your education, it’s also required if you are taking the exam to become licensed by the NCCAOM. The majority of U.S. states and the District of Columbia require acupuncturists have this certification to practice.

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