I have recently experienced an appalling and disturbing interaction with our
national certification organization, the National Certification Commission for
Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). I want to share this experience with
the Traditional Oriental Medicine community so that everyone is aware of a
shockingly incongruous policy stance within an organization that is supposedly
supportive of our profession and has respect for the scope of care we provide.
I am a practicing Acupuncture Physician in the state of Florida. I am licensed
in my state by virtue of the National Certification I was awarded by the NCCAOM
upon passing its exam. I graduated with honors from Emperor’s College of
Traditional Oriental Medicine in Santa Monica, California in April 2002 and have
being practicing both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine in Florida since
August of 2002. Remember that we are not required to have any form of license in
order to recommend and sell Chinese herbal medicines. This is where I thought I
would get ahead of the game.
As most of us know, the NCCAOM has a national certification exam in Herbology.
You do not need this certification to dispense herbal formulas because they are
classified as dietary supplements and are therefore outside of the realm of the
Food and Drug Administration (FDA). I have long held the belief that it is
simply a matter of time before Chinese herbal medicine, as practiced in this
country, will eventually be regulated because herbs are, in fact, medicinal. I
refuse to sell any herbs to inquiring people unless they at least have an herbal
consultation for this very reason.
When I took the certification exam for acupuncture, I did not take the herbology
exam at the same time for one simple reason – The NCCAOM exams are expensive
tests! After finishing my schooling I needed to make some money. I decided it
would be better to take the herbology exam later because I didn’t need it to
practice and that would give me a chance to save up for it. Good plan, or so I
Sometime in the summer of 2003 I applied to take the Herbology exam on October
26, 2003 in Miami, Florida -- a four-hour drive from my home in the Tampa area.
I paid my $650 fee and took the next few months to go over my herbs and
formulas. Unfortunately, things did not work out as planned. The Friday before
the exam, October 24th, I became ill with a simple but acute case of wind-cold
turning to wind-heat. That weekend I was chilled, then feverish, weak,
experiencing headaches, coughing up copious yellow sputum regularly, congested,
and generally miserable. I was certainly unable to drive four hours to Miami and
when I attempted to do so, fearful of losing my exam spot and money, I was
exhausted before I got to the end of the block.
I went online to look at what the NCCAOM website had to say about excused
absences, and there it was, nice and simple: You download their form, send it
with a note from the licensed professional who treated you, and wait to hear
from them. I had been treating myself with herbs -- first Gan Mao Ling, then Yin
Qiao San and then Zhong Gan Ling. I have an acupuncturist colleague in my area
and I asked her to treat me on Saturday the 25th. She did so and I was feeling
better by the next day, but by then it was too late to race down to Miami. I
figured “Ok, I’ve done what I need to do. I really was too sick to go; I guess
I’ll just take the next one”.
Almost three weeks
later I received a letter from the NCCAOM that shocked and surprised me. I was
told that based on the document I had provided (the letter from my fellow
Acupuncture Physician) that I was being denied the excused absence. The letter
went on to say that, “NCCAOM’s policy requires that you supply a letter from a
licensed health care provider who must be licensed in your state to treat the
specific illness/condition that you claim as the reason for your inability to
take the exam.”
I was, and still am, outraged! I
was just told, in essence, that the NCCAOM, the very organization that certifies
Acupuncturists as health care providers, doesn’t see a Licensed Acupuncturist as
qualified to treat a simple case of Wind-Heat! Call it the flu or a severe
common cold - the NCCAOM expected me to go to a western medical doctor to have
I called the NCCAOM and was told
that I needed to write a letter stating my reasons for why I believed it was an
incorrect judgment in order to have the decision appealed. I did so, based on
the argument above, and waited for a response. It is now the end of January 2004
and I have my final verdict. The NCCAOM’s second letter states outright that
“illnesses that cause a candidate to be absent from an exam should be treated by
a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathy.” Unbelievable.
So there you have it. I paid $650 dollars to be insulted by an
organization that doesn’t understand what it is that the people they certify
actually do. This is a very sorry statement. I won’t be taking any herbal
certifications until the day comes that I must. Hopefully by then a new tone and
a new policy will be in place at the NCCAOM.
Becky Rubright, Dipl. Ac., A.P.