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How to Become an Acupuncturist

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You must have formal training to become an acupuncturist, although the requirements vary from one state to another. Acupuncture is an ancient Oriental tradition based on the concept that illness and pain result from energy imbalances in the body. Most states regulate the practice of acupuncture, which is one of the disciplines incorporated into the practice of traditional Chinese medicine. In most cases, a minimum of an associate degree or the equivalent is required, as well as completion of a three-year acupuncture program. Most states also require that you pass the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine examination to become licensed.

Requirements Differ by State

Each state develops regulations regarding acupuncture. Unless you plan to relocate after your training, begin the process by researching your state’s requirements. Regulatory agencies differ from one state to another. In California, for example, acupuncture is regulated by the Department of Consumer Affairs. You must graduate from one of the schools on California’s approved list to become an acupuncturist, and you must complete a four-year program in Oriental medicine that includes acupuncture and the use of Chinese herbs, according to the Tri-State College of Acupuncture. If you live in Alabama, however, neither certification nor licensing is required to become an acupuncturist.

Choose an Accredited School

Aside from your state’s regulatory requirements, the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, or CCAOM, recommends you choose a school that is accredited or preaccredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. Schools can vary significantly in their emphasis, and the curriculum may focus on Chinese, Japanese, Five Element, Korean or Vietnamese traditions. Accreditation ensures your school meets certain educational standards. In addition, you must graduate from an accredited school to take the national certification exams, which are required for practice in most states.

Get a Master's Degree

The CCAOM notes that a master’s degree is considered the entry-level standard for acupuncturists. O*NET Online reports that 48 percent of acupuncturists in the U.S. have a minimum of a master’s degree. Fourteen percent have a professional degree -- such as an M.D. -- and 13 percent have a doctorate. You will need at least two years of baccalaureate-level education for admission to an acupuncture program. However, some acupuncture and Oriental medicine colleges require a bachelor’s degree prior to admission. If you are a licensed registered nurse or physician assistant, this requirement may be waived.

Job Outlook and Salaries

The use of acupuncture increased from 2002 to 2007, according to a 2008 study by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, indicating a growing demand for acupuncture services. O_NET Online expects job growth for acupuncturists to range from 8 percent to 14 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is about average compared to all occupations. Since acupuncture is a relatively small profession, that growth rate will lead to approximately 13,500 new jobs. The median annual salary for acupuncturists in 2013 was $72,870, according to O_NET Online.