Loans for Acupuncture School

It’s been too long. September brought a rush of obligations. And my post of X things (X to be replaced with a number when the list was completed) wrong with ACAOM’s gainful employment letter made it to 25 things by the time I got to the bottom of page 2 (of 7).

The gist of ACAOM’s letter — It’s not our fault. The cost of the education and the inability of many of our graduates to pay off their loans in a timely fashion has nothing to do with ACAOM, the schools, or CCAOM. It’s the fault of the system and the poor choices of our grads.

If you believe the schools and professional organizations should spend less time denying responsibility and more time taking responsibility, let them know by signing this petition.

My top 7 issues with the letter:

  • The authors absolve the schools of responsibility for the success or failure of their graduates. Where is their evidence that “the primary determinant for success in earnings is dependent upon the students who make their own personal choices….”  And doesn’t an effective education include helping students make choices that lead to success?
  • The organizations claim to represent the entire profession without justification.
  • With the exception of CCAOM, the participating organizations are operating far outside their missions. For example, NCCAOM’s job is to provide a means of credentialing practitioners to protect the public. Why are they weighing in on student loans?
  • The authors conflate the impact of the proposed gainful employment rules with the impact of student debt on establishing a practice. It is student debt that limits practice choices, not plans that would prevent excessive debt for ineffectual schools.
  • While the authors blithely refer to the “realistic” time frame to establish a health care practice, materials provided to prospective acupuncture students are silent on such matters.
  • Putting schools in charge of the metrics (like graduation rates) that determine loan availability is a classic fox guarding the hen-house scenario.
  • The salary figures reported in the letter are questionable at best and mostly irrelevant. Even if it were true that the median salary of practitioners with 20+ years of experience is $122,500, which is doubtful, an acupuncture education 20+ years ago was far less expensive and shorter. (Perhaps the lack of federally guaranteed student loans had something to do with that?) Graduates who could not establish a successful practice are not around twenty years later. What are grads supposed to do about their loans for the first twenty years of their professional life?

It’s requiring a good deal of self-restraint not to continue with my list, but enumerating the failings of ACAOM’s letter doesn’t create momentum for positive change. A petition signed by some of those 30,000 people the organizations claim to represent might create momentum. It isn’t easy to determine how best to lower costs and increase practitioner support. It will require careful analysis and consultation with experts. But if the powers don’t care enough to ask the questions, we’ll never approach the answers. Sign the petition.

(Before you say it isn’t possible, here is a school that has designed an affordable acupuncture program with a focus on creating successful practitioners.)


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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.

11 thoughts on “Loans for Acupuncture School

    • My alma mater just announced the FPD (First Professional Doctorate) programs will start in January. Over 80K for Acupuncture alone, over 100K for OM. Talk about adding fuel to the fire.

      • 20 years out and generating 122k of income? Over 80k for acu only and over 100k for OM???
        Putting it in perspective I generally work 36hrs/wk. add in a little overtime and holiday scheduling (double time and a half). 3 yrs out of nusing school and I generated 85k. Plus paid vacation time, sick pay, pension (albeit small), 403b with 2.5% employer contribution,, tuition reimbursement (100%), paid time off for CEUs, & CEU reimbursement. What is the value of the transition from OM to nursing? Priceless! What was the value of OM education and an acupuncture mortgage? Nothing. Yes, we all assume responsibility for our actions, yes, there is “buyers remorse.” Now, it is about preventing it from the m happening for prospective practitioners. I tell anyone that will listen to look at the various pay rates for RNs, PTs, NPs, PAs and the job prospects…nearly guaranteed. Those that complete allied health profession degrees who are unable to find employment in their chosen field are in the minority. Compare that to the prospects of an acupuncturist and the inverse is true. If someone really “must” be a “healer”, go into nursing first, establish a secure income and portable employment prospects, then pusue the AOM trade schools part time while you continue working as an RN (3 12 hr shifts leave you with 4 days off). Upon completion of AOM trade school you will still have 4 days during the week where you can build your practice while maintains yourself with your RN income. Besides there are flexible employment options: per diem, part time, causual, registry, travel) that make it attractive. If after 5 years you aren’t generating equivalent income, time to just be an acu hobbyist, or just hang up the needles altogether.

        • And the 122K after twenty years is 1) based on questionable data, and 2) disregards all the people who couldn’t make a living and so left the field long ago. And, of course, twenty years ago the educational program was shorter and cheaper and folks were coming out with much less debt.

          Also, for many professions, if you can get licensed in one state you are likely to be able to easily obtain a license in other states. A lawyer may need to study like hell to pass a new bar exam, but probably won’t need to go back to school for two years. But acupuncturists seem to think it is a good thing to establish rules which excludes significant segments of the profession.

  1. Thanks for posting this. The GE letter definitely lays “the blame” on students. I’m amazed that practitioners actually signed that! It’s clear the establishment has not stopped to consider the consequences of the continued status quo. While I often don’t support the Fed acting to tighten regulations, it’s clear schools have absolved themselves of any responsibility of the realities of the marketplace. In addition there has never been disclosure or transparency on their parts, regardless of non-profit or for profit status. If holding their collective feet to the fire brings on much-needed change, BRING IT ON!!!!

    • Pete, thanks for your comment. The truth is, I’m not so sure the gainful employment regulations are a great solution to the problem. If ACAOM had written a letter that expressed their concerns, but acknowledged the problem of student debt and shared what the acu-education industry is doing to help address the problems of big loans and the challenges of establishing practices, that would have been nice. I’d probably have wondered whether it was anything more than empty words, but I’d have appreciated their acknowledgement of the problem.

      But I didn’t see any of that in their letter. I saw an awful lot of dodging the issue, some misleading data about eventual success in the field, and all of that done in my name. Pretty incredible. So, as long as the industry is going to put the blame on everything but themselves, I say bring the regulations on.

  2. I am a long time reader of all things acupuncture and have been practicing now for eleven years. I have never been happy with any of the national acupuncture association. They do spend a lot of time on things that haven’t helped us much as a profession and as far as I can tell they haven’t done anything to help us post graduation but they are not the only ones to blame. We carry our own blame. I do understand that school is expensive and continues to get more expensive I don’t see a lot of acupuncturists taking personal responsibility for the loans they took out. It wasn’t a mystery how much you were borrowing and you didn’t have to borrow as much as you did. And it isn’t a mystery that it has to be paid back. Are there a lot of well paying jobs for acupuncturist? No. Are there more than there used to be? Yes. Should there be more? Yes. Should school cost as much as it does? No. I spent the first five years of my acupuncture practice working construction during the day, acupuncture at night and other jobs on the weekends to make ends meet and take care of my family. I never once complained about how much school cost or blamed anyone else for putting me in that situation. I also didn’t borrow a lot of money to go to school. My wife and I sacrificed a lot. There were no vacation during school breaks. I picked up extra work during those times to pay for the next semester. The point is we can’t be like the organization we hate and blame them without first looking at ourselves. We have our part in all of this too.

    • Trey, thanks for weighing in. I agree that students should share responsibility for the debt they incur. That being said, there has been LOTS of misleading information distributed by the schools about what life will be like as a new acupuncturist. Until very recently (when they were called on the carpet for it) many schools would use figures showing that practitioners could expect incomes close to 100K. Even the gainful employment letter says that median salaries for those with 20 years of experience is 122K, and even that is a stretch. The cost of school has gone up a lot in 11 years.

      I don’t know why it needs to be an either/or. Yes, students should understand the challenges of beginning a practice. But what is bad about asking the schools to take some responsibility for how their graduates do? Are they teaching people the skills they need to succeed? Are they offering support to new grads. If we want the profession to thrive we should all be looking hard at these issues, not just dismissing it as someone else’s fault.

    • Right on Trey. The work you’ve done is a credit to the profession. That commitment and clarity serves all of us. I think introspection and willingness go a very long way, both for clinicians and organizations.
      All the Best!

  3. I signed the petition: thanks for making it. Also thanks for posting the POCA catalog. I especially liked the “Is Acupuncture School Right for Me?” sections.

    • You are very welcome. I encourage everyone who supports the petition to share it widely. The more signatures the better 🙂

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