Acupuncture is a form of medical treatment where needles are inserted into the skin at carefully chosen points. The needles are said to help rebalance the body's qi, or life energy. This practice originated in China, and is still considered by many in the far East to be a form of medical care that is on par with modern western treatments. Throughout the second half of the 20th century, acupuncture began to become more popular in Western countries, though for most people, it is still used only to complement traditional medical care.
In China, an acupuncture education can be found alongside other medical training programs at any college or university. Acupuncturists in the East are subject to the same educational and professional standards as any other type of doctor. Throughout the rest of the world, however, the quality and availability of acupuncture education and certification varies wildly. Most countries, including the UK, have no licensing requirements for acupuncturists, though some may offer voluntary certification programs. In both Canada and Australia, a few provinces require formal acupuncture education and licensing, though the practice is unregulated throughout the remainder of the country.
The US has some of the strictest formal requirements for acupuncture education outside of China. Though standards are set by individual states, nearly every state has adopted the requirements established by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). This organization requires that applicants complete a two or four year undergraduate degree followed by a three to four year graduate level program in acupuncture. Students must complete over 3,500 hours of study in acupuncture, Oriental medicine, biomedicine, and Chinese herbs. The student must also complete 660 clinical hours of practice under the watch of a trained professional.
According to NCCAOM standards, all acupuncture education must be undertaken at a school accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). Once all educational requirements have been met, the student will sit for the NCCAOM exams. Upon successful completion of these exams, the student will be granted the title of Licensed Acupuncturist, or Doctor of Oriental Medicine. In California, students must sit for one additional state exam before state licensing is granted, but in the remainder of US states, the applicant may freely practice acupuncture once licensed.
As of 2009, there are over 60 acupuncture schools in the US that have been accredited by the ACAOM. The ACAOM has been recognized by the US Department of Education as the only organization authorized to accredit acupuncture schools in the US. Students pursuing an acupuncture education at one of these accredited schools are eligible for the same federal financial aid programs as students at traditional colleges and universities.