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Home/ Careers/ Complementary and Alternative Medicine/ Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine Practitioner

Acupuncture/Oriental Medicine Practitioner


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, and exercises such as tai ji and qi gong, as well as 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 healthcare 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 (CAM) and holds promise as one of the key modalities to be used in current and future integrative medical settings.  A recent Institute of Medicine report noted the widespread use of CAM in the U.S., with patients making more visits to CAM practitioners than to primary care physicians.  Annual out-of-pocket costs for CAM exceed $27 billion.

NOTE: 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 CAM therapies into their patient care protocols and research strategies.

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Acupuncture Practitioner 14 May 2008 [pdf, 173 KB]

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 the practitioner and his/her clients.  AOM practitioners look at their patients from a wholistic 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 with other health care professionals, to hospitals, to one’s own 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 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 3 years for acupuncture and 4 years for the combination of acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.  The Oriental Medicine program includes the study of Chinese herbology.  NOTE: 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.-based 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. Search for schools that provide training for this career.

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). Certification by NCCAOM is a requirement of licensure in most states that license the practice of AOM.  Currently, AOM is regulated by a formal practice act in 42 states and the District of Columbia.  Licensure is the most common form of practice authorization in these states.