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Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine Practitioner

Overview

Acupuncture/Oriental medicine (AOM) is an ancient and empirical system of medicine based on the concept of qi (pronounced “chee”), which is usually translated as energy. 

AOM treatments identify a pattern of energetic imbalance within a patient and redress that disharmony through a variety of therapies that may include acupuncture needling, cupping, acupressure, exercises such as tai ji and qi gong and Chinese herbal preparations.

AOM is virtually free of the side effects that accompany many modern medical procedures. As a relatively inexpensive form of treatment, it is especially appropriate for reducing health care costs.  The success of acupuncture today is due to its efficacy, remarkable safety record, cost-effectiveness and significant public demand. 

The prospects for finding a good job in this field are excellent for the foreseeable future. AOM is one of the most requested forms of treatment in the fast-growing field of complementary and alternative medicine and holds promise as one of the key modalities to be used in current and future integrative medical settings. A 2005 Institute of Medicine report noted the widespread use of complementary and alternative medicine in the United States, with patients making more visits to complementary and alternative medicine practitioners than to primary care physicians. Annual out-of-pocket costs for complementary and alternative medicine exceed $27 billion.

The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine is the official journal of the Society for Acupuncture Research. It publishes observational and analytical reports on treatments outside the realm of allopathic medicine, including clinical care concepts and case reports. The readers of this publication are largely health care professionals and scientists who are interested in integrating complementary and alternative medicine therapies into their patient care protocols and research strategies.

Working Conditions

AOM practitioners can create financially supportive careers with flexible work schedules that are rewarding on many levels. Moreover, an AOM career offers the opportunity for a more balanced lifestyle for practitioners and their clients. AOM practitioners look at their patients from a holistic perspective, taking into account the patient's physical, mental and emotional health.  Practitioners are able to spend time developing a collaborative relationship with their patients, assisting them in maintaining their health and promoting a consciousness of wellness. 

The settings in which AOM practitioners work vary from multidisciplinary clinics and hospitals to private practice. Other career options include teaching, translating, publishing or working with an herb or acupuncture supply company.

Academic Requirements

Specific academic requirements and programs may vary from one acupuncture/Oriental medicine (AOM) college to another, but in general, a bachelor’s or associate’s degree (or the equivalent, with 60 semester units from an accredited college or university) is required for admission into an AOM program. 

The length of training at most accredited AOM schools is three years for acupuncture and four years for the combination of acupuncture and Oriental medicine. The Oriental medicine program includes the study of Chinese herbology.

A number of schools offer multiple language tracks that include Chinese and Korean, in addition to English. 

Over 50 colleges nationwide offer graduate training in AOM at the master’s degree level, which is the entry-level degree for the profession. Specialized clinical training at the doctoral level is also available. There are approximately 8,500 students in U.S. AOM schools and about 2,000 graduates annually. The student bodies are very diverse with a variety of ethnic backgrounds and a high number of women.

Graduates from accredited AOM schools, or schools that are in candidacy status for accreditation, are eligible to take the national certification examinations offered by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). With the exception of California, NCCAOM’s examinations are accepted or required in the states that license the practice of AOM. Currently, AOM is regulated by a formal practice act in 44 states and the District of Columbia. Licensure is the most common form of practice authorization in these states.