You've decided to take a somewhat unusual step and learn the ancient art of
acupuncture, a part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) that's rapidly taking
hold here in the West. This decision, however, is only the first of many you
will have to make in the coming years as you prepare yourself for this
challenging endeavor. One of the most important questions you will face is where
to look for the knowledge and practice you'll need to be what your patients need
– a caring and competent doctor, fully versed in all aspects of TCM.
You won't find them listed in the standard guides to the country's best
colleges, but there are actually 48 accredited TCM universities in the United
States – a baffling array for someone looking to enter what is already a very
different way of looking at the world.
So here are some things to keep in mind when you're deciding where to study:
First of all, make sure any schools you are considering are fully accredited
or have candidacy status. Accredited schools have passed through a rigorous
process of self-study and peer review through the Accreditation Commission for
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM www.acaom.org) and meet national
standards. Not only does this help ensure that you'll get a quality education,
but nearly all U.S. states require practitioners to have a degree from an
accredited program to be licensed. Accredited schools can also offer students
financial aid from the federal government.
Decide what kind of degree you want to try for. Graduate with an acupuncture
degree and you'll be able to practice that art; a degree in Oriental medicine
will leave you trained in herbal medicine as well as acupuncture, but take up to
a year longer to complete. Be sure to research the licensing regulations for the
state you plan to practice in – some states require licensed acupuncturists to
also have herbal training. See
Find out about the school's philosophy. TCM, like Western medicine, does not
have a single way of approaching healing. In the U.S., there are two main
approaches: the TCM/Eight Elements School and Five Element School.
The Five Element School uses a classic approach, emphasizing acupuncture and
counseling. It is taught in a minority of schools in this country.
TCM/Eight Elements School is based on the "Eight Principles” method of
diagnosis that's been standardized and widely used in China since Communism. It
emphasizes herbal therapy with acupuncture as an adjunct. Again, the difference
is largely philosophical. Critics of the Eight Element School, for example, say
that without the Five Element's emphasis on spirituality and counseling
treatment can become formulaic.
There are also individual universities with their own philosophies. Yo San
University in Marina Del Rey, CA, for example, teaches Taoist Classical
Medicine, using both the Five Elements and TCM/Eight Elements approaches plus
Energetic Systems of Chinese medicine, which are based on the "Yellow Emperor's
Classic” and the I-Ching. Maoshing Ni, co-founder of the school, says this
approach allows healers to work in the most integrated way possible, using
spirituality and healing energy along with physical treatments.
Learning more about these approaches and deciding which one is the best fit for
you can help make sure you're getting what you want out of your education.
Make sure you understand the work involved in becoming an acupuncturist. Like
Western medical schools, TCM schools require an intense commitment from their
students. Programs range from three to four years long and can be very
academically rigorous. Students who sign up expecting to coast through their
training often drop out early on because they're not prepared for the challenge.
Remember, you're basically becoming a doctor, and the training is not all that
For more information about acupuncture schools:
Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine -
Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine -
National Certification Commision for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM)
American Association of Oriental Medicine -
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine Alliance -