Acupuncture Education 2015 – The State of the Profession

If we want people who want acupuncture to receive it from an Acupuncturist, acupuncture education deserves our attention.

There aren’t good statistics on how many Acupuncturists or acupuncture students there are in the US. But those handy maps printed in Acupuncture Today can give us some idea. The December 2013 issue (with an article on AT’s unprecedented growth) showed 24,342 Acupuncturist and 3,124 student issues mailed. In December 2015 – 24,231 Acupuncturist and 2,624 student issues mailed. That’s not growth. The 2014 NCCAOM Annual Report (the most recent available) also reveals – we are not a growing profession.

There is a lot of churn in Acupuncture education — schools close, schools open, programs merge, new degree programs are established. New Gainful employment rules adopted in late 2014 may well contribute to that churn. They require for-profit schools (about 50% of acupuncture programs) to provide at least some debt and jobs data to prospective students.

Small class sizes can skew the data. Still, check out these reports (selected because they came up first in Google): Emperors, ACAOM (the school not the agency), Arizona School of AOM, Midwest, AIAM, and Colorado School of TCM.

Only two schools reported job placement, at 50% and 67%. Median loan amount (omitting a 1.5 million figure given by Midwest that must be a mistake) ranged from 17K to 72K. A real eye opener was the percentage of students completing the program in the expected time frame. The average across all 6 programs was 55%. Omit the 100% reported by Arizona, currently on probation with ACAOM (the agency), and it’s 46%.

It’s not encouraging. Add student uncertainty that the degree they obtain will enable them to practice and it is no surprise our profession isn’t growing.

Imagine if we could tell prospective practitioners –  “A Master’s Degree in Acupuncture from any ACAOM accredited program will fulfill the educational requirements to practice in any state.”

I may not love the ACAOM standards but I’ll accept them to help the profession. Is there a downside to offset the upside?

NGAOM you have a stated goal of establishing uniform standards, yet are fighting to keep California schools out of the ACAOM system. Please explain.

We had some significant losses in Acupuncture education in 2015.

Spring brought news that Dianne Connolly and Bob and Susan Duggan would no longer teach or be part of the program at MUIH (which Bob and Dianne founded in 1974 as The Maryland College of Chinese Acupuncture). Bob and Dianne are part of the foundation of this medicine in the US. They profoundly influenced my acupuncture journey and it is a significant loss that they won’t be part of every MUIH student’s education. I am glad they are continuing to teach and share their wisdom in other settings.

Bob Duggan played an integral role in establishing acupuncture standards, credentials, agencies, and commissions. His goal in so doing was to enable this safe and effective medicine to be legally available to more people. He shared in a personal communication his ambivalence at how things turned out – that though his work enabled so many people to be healers and to be healed, “If I had real courage I’d have gone to jail and insisted this was the people’s medicine and we shouldn’t allow it to be professionalized.”

2015 closed with another loss, the death of Dr. Richard Teh-Fu Tan. Dr. Tan was an excellent teacher, deeply committed to teaching. Directly, and through his students, he eased the suffering of countless patients. Dr. Tan made no secret of his doubts about the caliber of acupuncture education most of his students received in their degree programs. Many seminar attendees reported learning more about effective acupuncture in four days with Dr. Tan than in four years of acupuncture school.

Attention must be paid.








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© Elaine Wolf Komarow and The Acupuncture Observer, 2013-2033. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express written permission from Elaine Wolf Komarow is prohibited. Excerpts and links are encouraged, provided that full and clear credit is given with specific direction to the original content.

10 thoughts on “Acupuncture Education 2015 – The State of the Profession

  1. Elaine – Thanks for the shout out. I am going to post on the AB758 bill outcome (it did not advance out of committee on a 7-7 vote) on the Guild blog soon. Here is a bit more detail. AB758 (2015) proposed to undo SB1246 (2014) which removed the authority of the Calif Acu Board (CAB) to site visit and “approve” schools. FYI ACAOM provides program and instituional accreditation for AOM schools. Program accred reviews the ed curr. Institutional accred opens the Title IV loan spigot. ACAOM is in turn “recognized” by the USDE as an accred body. ACAOM has a rough review in 2011 which we shared with the CA legislature. The CAB “approves”” schools so their grads may take the CLAE (Calif licensing exam). So you can see each entity does something a bit different. AB758 did not seek to remove ACAOM from the bill. The 2014 bill however did seek to remove the CAB from the decision process abbout who gets to take the Calif exam! That did not sit well with Calif LAcs who beliee a Calif regulatory board shoudl decide who gets to take our licensing exam; not a national ccreditaiton agency. Next time you are googling try to find some of my papers on the topics of acupuncture laws and the acupuncture workforce. Best way to reach out to me is thru your own blog.

    • Well, it seems odd to me that a regulatory board would get to decide who takes a licensure exam. Could this happen on a case by case basis? Or is the CAB just saying that in addition to an ACAOM accredited school you will also need to fulfill x, y, z requirements before we allow you to sit the exam?

      • for my “Acupuncture Practice Acts: A Profession’s Growing Pains.” If you have access to a school library you may be able to download no cost.

        In terms of licensure everything is on a state by state basis for every profession; even mediicine. Briefly, 44/5 states have an acu law. Each state reserves the right to license all kinds of practitioners from acupuncture to zebra training who wish to offer services in that state. 17 states have a standing acu regulatory board. The rest have an advisory committee under another regulatory board (usually medical). These boards/comittees establish regulatory guidelines for what is required to become licensed in that state. Some states have simple reciprocity – if you are licensed in Alaska then you can practice in Minnesota (example only). Most simply state that an applicant must graduate from an accredited school and have passed a certified exam. Many state have their own special test that covers state laws, etc. Fewer than half the states actually name ACAOM and NCCAOM in their laws. Of course, those entities are the only games in town EXCEPT for California which is the only state with a licensing exam. ACICS is the new player granting AOM schools accreditation.

        Like nearly every state the CAB gets to establish requirements for licensure. Because Calif has its own licensing exam – which is taken by almost the same number of test takers as NCCAOM – Calif does not use the NCCAOM exam. Important to distinguish between licensure and certification. This is the tip of the iceberg. Like insurance, it ain’t so simple.

        • Yes, I understand the difference between credentialing and licensure and the degree of control a board typically has. From reviewing the bill text, what I see is that the (failed bill) would have given schools the option of either going through the ACAOM process OR having CAB review and approval. Previously the regulations/law required CAB approval, the Legislation/Regulation from last year said, no ACAOM will be the body accrediting schools, and the AB 758 made it an OR. But that whether students graduated from ACAOM schools or CAB schools, they would have been able to sit the exam and fulfilled the requirements for licensure. Am I understanding correctly?

  2. As a note the numbers of AT are further skewed in that they don’t say how many of those people are actively practicing. Many people may keep their acupuncture license even they leave the profession–simply because they want to keep the option open of returning to it.

    • You’re right. I’ve been in practice 21 years, so a lot of my colleagues are beginning to retire, or at least scale way back. Any time someone mentions letting their license lapse I strongly discourage them from doing so. After all, many of us would be unable to get a “new” license these days due to changes in requirements. So, the cost of maintaining a license and the associated credentials, while not nothing, seem small compared saying goodbye to the ability to use your skills and experience ever again.

    • It’s been interesting to watch the Naturopaths. As a profession, they seem to be seeing the advantages of staying unlicensed. They also seem to be having a lot of influence on health care. (See the latest Integrator Blog.) It frees up a lot of energy when you aren’t establishing rules and the institutions to enforce them, and when existing outside of the system means you don’t have to fight to maintain the system.

      It’s hard to know what acupuncture in the US would look like if we remained unlicensed — but our current situation leaves a lot to be desired.

      • I have to disagree that naturopaths are advantaged in not being licensed. As a ND who graduated from one or 5 accredited schools in Northern America and practicing in an unlicensed states I practice with my dual degree license as an acupuncturist. Unlicensed states have a difficulty time regulating proper training and offering decent a decent scope to draw new NDs to move there away from states broad scopes of practice. The nature of the type of healthcare naturopaths provide helps them in unlicensed states but also limits them also as they can’t use their full training. ND will offer botanical medicine, nutritional consultations, homeopathy and use functional medicine in their practices and they do well, but that is very limited compared to what they could be doing and not recognized/allowed to do . Naturopaths have similar situation with job placement and business training as you see in the acupuncture community and debt coming out of school, at least mine, is often 2x that of acupuncture school. Also very few residency positions are available for additional post-graduate training and even they are limited to certain area like environmental medicine, women’s medicine and pediatrics. Individual states like my own fight for licensure and depend on their state associations to put in most of the effort.

        • Thanks for the input, Stephanie. I didn’t mean to suggest that I thought they were overall advantaged, just that at least some Naturopaths see some advantages to remain outside the regulatory framework. I know that one of the reasons efforts to pass legislation regarding licensure for Naturopaths didn’t move forward in Virginia (certainly not the only reason) was that there is some disagreement within the field about whether licensure would be a net benefit. Perhaps due to the same sorts of issues that have proved problematic to Acupuncture — what training should be required, etc.

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