How to Choose an Acupuncturist


Today, more so than ever before, itís getting easier to find someone who does acupuncture. Unfortunately, it does not mean you may be finding the most qualified of practitioners. Many states, including my own here in Connecticut, allow other modalities of medicine to legally practice acupuncture and/or herbology, with little to no training. When our licensing bill was passed here several years ago, it was amended to include medical doctors, podiatrists and chiropractors, basically stating that their own license qualifies them to practice acupuncture with no additional training. Many doctors and chiropractors will do a few seminars for as little as 100-150 classroom hours of instruction while they experiment on their patients.  Many others do not get even get this much training. Of course there are a few individuals who will actually get properly trained in TCM, by this I mean the same training that is required of any other person that wishes to legally practice acupuncture.  

Just to put things into perspective, what is currently required by the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) to be eligible to sit for their national board exam, which is required by most states for licensure, is the following:

ďGraduation from a formal, full-time acupuncture program that meets NCCAOM's accreditation requirement* and documentation of at least three academic years (a minimum of 93 semester credits or 1725 hours).

The 1725 hours must meet the curricular requirements of the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM), which specifies at least 47 semester credits (705 hours) in Oriental medical theory, diagnosis and treatment techniques in acupuncture and related studies; 22 semester credits (660 hours) in clinical training; and 24 semester credits (360 hours) in biomedical clinical sciences. Clinical hours may include observation, as well as internship or treatment hours.Ē

If one wants to go the apprenticeship route, these are the requirements:

ďApprenticeship Ė Completion of an apprenticeship of at least 4,000 contact hours in a three- to six- year period. The preceptor must have had at least five years experience prior to the beginning of the apprenticeship. Preceptorís practice must be at a minimum level of 500 acupuncture patient visits by no fewer than 100 different patients during each year of the apprenticeship program.Ē

As a practitioner of TCM, we are required to do continuing education in order to keep our national certification and our state license for as long as we wish to stay in practice, a doctor or chiropractor do not. A doctorís or chiropractorís license, for example, do not give them any special insight into traditional Chinese medicine.  At best, it takes care of the western medical prerequisites that are needed to get into acupuncture school. Many of the doctors and chiropractors that attempt the practice of acupuncture limit itsí use to pain treatment, and thus feel that they only need a limited amount of training in order to effectively treat pain disorders. This only illustrates their lack of understanding of TCM and the mechanisms involved in pain and its treatment.

Many times when a person goes to someone for help with acupuncture/herbs and they do not get any successful results, based on their own definition of what that is, they will blame the modality and not the practitioner or that personís training or lack there of. Itís not fair to judge an entire modality of medicine from a single practitioner.

So how does one know what kind of training the person they are considering hiring to help them with their healthcare? Well, by asking of course! As with everything else, we are consumers and our own biggest advocate. No one will look out for our best interest more than we ourselves will. Therefore, we need to be assertive when considering going to any practitioner, regardless of whether it is for acupuncture, or to get our teeth cleaned or our back adjusted, or just to have a general check up. Itís important to ask about the personís training, clinical experience, etc. If you ever run into a practitioner of any modality that gives you any type of negative reaction because of you expressing interest in their training/experience, walk away and find another practitioner. People should have no problem discussing their training and experience in something they present themselves as having competency in. After all, youíre hiring this person for their service, youíre the boss.

We often assume that because a person hangs their shingle up to offer a particular service that they are actually qualified to do that service. This is often not the case, despite an individual having a nice shiny piece of paper framed on their wall stating otherwiseÖ

Here are a few questions I think are important to ask someone youíre considering going to for help with your health issues:

  1. How much training have you had and where?
  2. Do you have any clinical experience as part of your training? If so, how much?
  3. Are you licensed to practice in this state? If so, what did you have to do to get your license?
  4. How long have you been practicing?
  5. Have you treated my problem (the condition youíre seeking help with) before? What kind of success have you had treating it?

 There are many more questions that you can ask but these are a good starting place. In addition to the answers you receive, itís also important that you feel comfortable with this practitioner on a personal level. Youíll be discussing personal and private information to this individual and itís important that you feel comfortable and have some level of trust with this chosen practitioner. A good place to start looking for a practitioner is by asking friends of yours that have already been to someone. It can help narrow down your choices if you trust your friendís opinion.

 These are some basic tools for trying to find a good practitioner. They apply to all modalities of medicine. Take your time and youíll find the person thatís right for you. Here is a link you may find useful in helping you to find an acupuncturist near you:

 Here in Connecticut you can also check on the status of the license of an individual who practices acupuncture by going to the state's health department. To be sure that the individual has the minimum training/qualifications to practice acupuncture they should have an acupuncture license otherwise their training can be much less than what is mentioned above. Various licensing information. This link is used to verify the person's state license: Verify the license.

Basically, I'm trying to tell you to be your own advocate here. Educate yourself and ask many questions as we are often mislead, intentionally and unintentionally, about the efficacy of one treatment over another, how knowledgeable someone may be about what they are doing, etc. Keep in mind it's your body and you're the one who is going to have to live in it the rest of your life. You're the boss hiring others to help you. Ask lots of questions and take nothing for granted. Unfortunately, there are many doctors and lots of media outlets that have been scaring people about the safety of using "alternative" forms of medicine and particularly herbs. True, using herbs without the guidance of a trained professional or going to someone that is not properly trained in the modality that they are employing can cause harm. Far too often, in the case of using herbs, the concerns that are being expressed are over blown, especially when put into perspective. Did you know one of the leading causes of death and injury in this country is going to an allopathic physician? Sad but true, those warning us of the dangers of "alternative" and "natural" medicines do the greatest harm to people in this country. Independently collated data shows this to be a fact: The American Medical System Don't get me wrong, allopathic medicine has many great things to offer us but they are not the end all be all of health care, just one of several important options for us to consider. So please be your own best advocate!


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