Second Night – Census Time!

How many Acupuncturists are there?

As we strive to increase opportunities for acupuncturists, we should know if we have the workforce to fill the demand we’re trying create. If we don’t have the workforce available, others will step up to fill the need. That may still be a win for the population able to receive acupuncture from other providers, but it won’t be the win the profession has been working for.

The new Standard Occupational Code with the BLS may, eventually, give us a good sense of our numbers. In the meantime, different sources give wildly different numbers of our strength. The NCCAOM, relying on state figures and their active Diplomate data gives a count of under 20K. Others who have gathered date from all of the states (no easy task) have been presenting a figure of almost 35K (Fan AY, Faggert S. Number of Licensed Acupuncturists and Educational Institutions in the United States in Early of 2015. J Integrat Med. 2017 September; Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1016/S2095-4964(17)60371-6).

I’ve historically used the numbers provided by Acupuncture Today. They’ve had the resources to purchase mailing lists and the financial incentive, at least in the days of paper publications, not to send multiple copies to the same practitioner, even if they were licensed in multiple states. I’m not sure their numbers are as accurate in the days of their digital edition, but they are currently showing about 28K LAcs.

In my experience a significant number of practitioners are licensed in multiple states, and a not insignificant number keep an active license when they are rarely or never treating. When getting a license is complicated and expensive, we don’t let them go lightly. For instance, if there were actually 25,000 practitioners, and 20% are licensed in two states, 5% in 3, and 2% in 4, there would be 34,000 state issued licenses.

(To put the numbers in perspective, there are 456,389 primary care physicians in the US. And a lot of patient care is still provided by nurses, PA’s, and other providers.)

Whether there are 20,000 of us or 34,000, it’s a small number to serve the population we hope to serve. And if we’ve got inaccurate numbers we may be writing checks with our ego that our bodies can’t cash.

The Hanukkah story celebrates a miracle – one night’s worth of oil lasted for eight nights. Maybe we’ll have a workforce miracle too. But it would be better if we knew how much “oil” we were starting with. And if we used that information when deciding where to focus our limited resources.




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13 thoughts on “Second Night – Census Time!

  1. An important figure is the ratio of practitioners per population. That would give us one physician for 340 people, using the Kaiser statistics, and one acupuncturist per 16,155 people using the 20,000 figure and one per 9,502 using the 34,000 figure.

    Neither of these figures, I might point out, represent full time equivalencies. If those putative 34,000 acupuncturists work an average of 20 hours per week, it amounts to 17,000 full time equivalent practitioners.

    • I suppose I could check this out by doing some math, but instead I’ll just wonder if you used the physician figures for total physicians or primary care – because that would change it even more.

      To put it in perspective, over 52,000 people died of drug overdoses in the US in 2015. I’ll come back to that later this week….

  2. Ok, we got a fairly goo idea on #’s. Far more important at this point is taking a look at how much acupuncturists make, net of expenses. Again, various figures abound. But as long many make $50,000 per year or less, it’s challenging to attract folks to the profession AND keep the present one in
    Complicating factor, we have many part timers, bringing the averages down

    • But we don’t have a good idea on #s — a range from 18k to 35K is pretty damn significant.

      And, the number of people we’ve got could be very helpful in determining the best paths to increase incomes. For instance, there was a huge push to get insurance companies to cover acupuncture, and the promise was that that would help our incomes. Has it? And what happens when an insurance company covers acupuncture but there aren’t enough practitioners willing to work for their price? And how do people feel about paying what we’d like to be making per treatment if they know that their insurance does cover it — even if they don’t like the practitioners available on their plan?

  3. I held 3 for many years and still hold 2. It seems like more I know hold more than one license than not. We also know of many who do not practice but keep their license. Agreed, we should have an accurate picture of how many there are of us, as there are not enough to serve the needs of the public. Theoretically, the NCCAOM would have an accurate number as they do know who is holding multiple licenses. Extremely easy to figure out using and excel spread sheet. Thanks for this!

    • Well, the NCCAOM says they have pretty good numbers of how many active Diplomates are in each state. But many states don’t require active status. And, some states don’t require NCCAOM exams at all — including California which is also the state with the most (maybe?) practitioners. Since a California license is a whole different kettle of fish, people rarely let them go, even when they leave CA. I’m not sure about Maryland or West Virginia, but they used to have non-exam paths to licensure. If we go with the NCCAOM numbers, we’re looking at fewer than 20K practitioners. And that might be right!

      Also not all states share # of licensees in a straightforward manner. I’ve heard people say they needed to rely on FOIA requests. So it’s not as easy as you might think. Though there’s probably a way to buy a list, if anyone had the $.

  4. I only have a license for New Hampshire, but it seems like quite a few New Hampshire acupuncturists are licensed in Massachusetts. Some people who live in Massachusetts have licenses to practice in New Hampshire.

    • I’ve only got Virginia now, but would like to have West Virginia soon, and I used to have Virginia and Maryland. I’ve got quite a few friends with 3 or more. And I did take a quick look at the first page of the list of Rhode Island licensees and can quickly identify a handful who are practicing elsewhere. People like the RI license because it comes with the title Doctor, so people get it so they can say, Joe Schmo, L.Ac, M.Ac, Doctor (RI)…. I hear that’s a thing in NM too.

    • It could be. Seems like something we should know. When I was discussing some of the numbers with a colleague (who believes the higher figures of 34K are accurate) I mentioned the number of people who hold on to licenses after retiring as further inflating the figure. She thought that the number entering the profession was probably pretty comparable to those retiring. But since those entering the profession get licensees, they’d show up in the official count along with retirees maintaining their (one or two or three) licenses.

      Even the Acupuncture Today figures wouldn’t reveal who has a license but doesn’t actually see clients anymore. It’s only the people seeing clients who make up the actual workforce.

    • I’d say I know as many people with multiple licenses as with only one license. When I gave those percentages — 20% with two, 5% with three, etc, I chose numbers far below what I believe to be the case, to avoid criticism that I was inflating the numbers. It seems like there should be some easier way to figure this out other than asking people on FB….

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