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Acupuncture is an important part of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), a medical tradition which spans thousands of years in the East and has recently been picked up in many Western nations as well. During an acupuncture treatment, hair-thin needles are inserted into the patient along major meridians and power points to stimulate the body, release blocked energy, and relieve tension and stress. Many people seek out a licensed acupuncturist in their area to perform acupuncture treatments. The steps involved in becoming a licensed acupuncturist are complex, but worth it; expect to spend a minimum of two years in training before you can begin to treat patients as a licensed acupuncturist.
Acupuncture is rarely offered as a standalone certification. Usually it is bundled into a TCM program, or a holistic health program offered by a school which focuses on complementary alternative medicine. Taking TCM coursework while you study to become a licensed acupuncturist is highly beneficial, because you will understand the underlying concepts behind acupuncture, and will also be able to offer herbal treatments, massage, and other aspects of TCM in tandem with acupuncture.
The first step in becoming a licensed acupuncturist is to determine the licensing requirements for your area, as they vary widely. Some regions require attendance in a three year program combined with an examination, while others have hourly training requirements. Most regions also require training in how to handle sharps, how to deal with blood borne pathogens, and medical ethics. Once you have determined licensure requirements, investigate schools. If you can, attend one which is certified by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM), which regularly inspects schools. ACAOM certified schools can offer Federal financial aid to students, along with a higher program quality, and are well worth the investment.
Most TCM schools expect students to have a bachelor's degree, although it can be in any subject. At a minimum, you should have 90 units of coursework from an accredited institution, and be prepared to take basic courses in anatomy, physiology, biology, psychology, and ethics before you begin your training in TCM. At the culmination of your program, you can take examinations offered by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, which will allow you to become a licensed acupuncturist in your area.
After you have fulfilled the regional requirements involved in becoming a licensed acupuncturist, you can start a practice. Some acupuncturists work alone, while others take advantage of an established clinic with a strong client base: either way, you should plan on attending continuing training, so that you can constantly improve and refine your treatment. As a licensed acupuncturist, your pay will vary depending on the area where you practice and the services you offer, with urban areas tending to offer a higher rate of pay.