Acupuncturist Job Description: What You’ll Do

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Keep reading to find out what you’ll do in your role as an acupuncturist.

Acupuncture focuses on energy, or Qi, instead of the biological and chemical processes of the human body. This is probably the largest distinction between Oriental and Western medicine.  To generate this energy in patients, acupuncturists use tools not commonly found in Western medicine. The most well-known tool is, of course, needles, but acupuncturists also use cups, ear balls among other things.

As an acupuncturist, you’ll be a proponent for alternative medicine and maintaining wellness. If you’re compassionate, hard-working and have an interest in ancient medical practices, a career in acupuncture could be a good fit for you.

What does an acupuncturist do?

Acupuncturists treat a variety of physical and psychological issues like hypertension or anxiety.  The practice is also used to maintain general health. As an acupuncturist, you’ll consult with patients about their symptoms, diagnose the issue and treat it using acupuncture needles and other tools.

The theory is that energy flows through certain meridians, or pathways, in the body and corresponds to certain internal organs or body parts. The role of an acupuncturist is to assist in rebalancing that energy flow so the body can repair itself.

On the job, acupuncturists:

  • Meet with patients in 30 to 60 minute appointments.
  • Discuss treatment options and preventative measures
  • Insert needles to the appropriate body part for treatment
  • Maintain patient records
  • Monitor patients’ progress
  • Ensure all safety, infection, quality and environmental procedures and rules are in place and used

What education or certification will I need to become an acupuncturist?

Working as an acupuncturist requires a degree in the ancient practice and many schools offer master’s and doctorate programs. Generally, you’ll find most Oriental medicine programs will encompass acupuncture and other treatments, like herbs.

Although not all schools require incoming students to have an undergraduate degree, schools accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) require at least two years of undergraduate work. And many schools require students have a bachelor’s degree.

A word about accreditation: Accreditation is very important to a career in acupuncture because it lends credibility to your educational background. Employers generally look for job candidates with a degree from an accredited school to ensure the candidate received the proper training.

If you’re just starting out and know you want to be an acupuncturist, some schools also offer a combined bachelor’s and master’s degree program in acupuncture.

Once you’ve earned your degree, you’ll need to sit for the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) exam to become licensed. It’s also a good idea to check with your state because many have their own licensing requirements, but generally require NCCAOM certification.

Learn more about acupuncture curriculums on what you’ll study.

What career paths can I take as an acupuncturist?

An acupuncturist’s career path can head in a few directions. You’ll find most acupuncturists run their own private practice, but as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) becomes more popular, you can also find careers in hospitals and clinics with other CAM providers.

If you earn a degree from a program which rolls acupuncture into a broader Oriental medicine track, you’ll also be able to offer your expertise on herbs, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) nutrition and massage.

In some instances, especially if you earn a doctorate, you can teach, write, research or work as a Chinese translator.

What can you earn as an acupuncturist?

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Acupuncturists and Healthcare Diagnosing or Treating Practitioners, All Other

Avg Annual Salary


Projected job growth: N/A

Average salary information is calculated by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and is based on the 2019 payroll records of business establishments. Actual salaries vary greatly depending on your location, level of education, years of experience, work environment, and many other factors. Please note that salaries may differ even more for those who are self-employed or work part time.

As you work toward earning an acupuncture degree, consider the advantages and disadvantages of each option. For example, as a private practitioner, you may be a one-man show also performing administrative duties, but you’ll also have complete control over your work schedule. In a clinic or hospital, you have the chance to learn from others in the field on a regular basis, but you may have to deal with the bureaucracy of a larger institution.

Learn about pay and salary projections for acupuncturists.

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