How to Pick An Acupuncturist
Through conversations I’ve had with some folks lately, I’ve come to a fresh state of awareness regarding how overwhelming it can be when it comes to picking the right health care practitioner. It’s hard enough to find a doctor or a dentist that you like, and you don’t even really have to think too much about their qualifications – anyone who practices as an M.D. or a dentist has a license, has gone to medical school, and taken board exams.
When it comes to how to pick an acupuncturist, the game is a little bit more tricky. Our qualifications aren’t really household knowledge. So I wanted to write a little blog post about acupuncturists, and how to pick a practitioner with the highest level of qualification.
Choosing an acupuncturist can be a little bit tricky because everybody is trying to jump on the bandwagon – your chiropractor, your PT, even your MD. Some are calling this acupuncture, and some are rebranding acupuncture and calling it dry-needling.
But here’s the thing – it is my professional and common-sense opinion that you almost always want to pick someone who went to school specifically for Chinese medicine because it is truly a discipline unto itself, a complete medical system that has existed for thousands of years. And used improperly, like any medicine, it can be dangerous! For example, did you know that there are acupuncture points that if used improperly can cause miscarriage in a pregnant woman?
Here is a direct quote from the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), the accrediting body for acupuncture schools: “The minimum length of the professional acupuncture curriculum must be at least three academic years (a minimum of 105-semester credits or 1905 hours).” Now that’s just for acupuncture. If you study acupuncture, herbal medicine, and tuina (Chinese massage) the hours are even more demanding: “The minimum length of the professional Oriental medicine curriculum must be at least four academic years (a minimum of 146-semester credits or 2625 hours).” My program was an Oriental medicine program, by the way, and on top of being a 3,474 hour/226 credit program, I also gained additional clinical hours during my last year of school at one of my professor’s private clinics.
By comparison, a medical acupuncture certificate (for MD’s) runs at about 300 hours. 300 hours!! That’s about 1600-2300 hours less than a practitioner who went to school for just acupuncture. In terms of percentages, that’s like saying that I could go do a year of medical school and get a “certificate” and call myself a doctor.
Just for the record, I’m not saying that there’s absolutely no place for these types of certificate practitioners, but personally, I would never choose someone with 300 hours of training over someone with thousands of hours of training. I’m just a “go big or go home” kind of person I guess, but what you do is up to you.
So how do you know who’s who at a glance in Virginia? If you wish to follow my advice, look for the “L.Ac.” after their name. An L.Ac. (Licensed Acupuncturist) is a person who has completed their education at an NCCAOM accredited school, passed national board exams, and currently holds a license to practice in the Commonwealth of Virginia by the Board of Medicine.