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Education and Training: Minimum of some college plus additional training

Salary: Median—$50,000 per year

Employment Outlook: Good

Definition and Nature of the Work

Acupuncturists are alternative health care providers who use procedures that originated in China more than two thousand years ago. American acupuncture incorporates medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea, and other countries. Acupuncture includes procedures that stimulate anatomical points on the body primarily by penetrating the skin with thin, solid, metallic needles that are manipulated by hand or by electrical stimulation. Scientific evidence shows that stimulation by needles at acupuncture points releases hormones called endorphins in the brain, which block pain.

Many people visit acupuncturists for the treatment of headache pain, asthma, or arthritis. Acupuncture may also be useful to treat conditions such as addiction, stroke rehabilitation, menstrual cramps, tennis elbow, lower-back pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.

After diagnosing the patient and discussing treatment, the practitioner performs the acupuncture. Taking various factors into account, the acupuncturist decides which size needles to use and where to insert them (there are 365 acupuncture points on the body). Several sessions may be necessary to achieve the desired result. The treatment is not generally painful.

Acupuncturists must be skillful and competent with their hands. They must accurately insert and manipulate needles because needles used incorrectly can potentially cause pain, infection, and punctured organs. Acupuncturists must sterilize the needles carefully to avoid infection or use disposable needles. They need great patience to perfect their skill and must relate well to other people.

Many acupuncturists are qualified in such fields as medicine, nursing, and physical therapy. A number of them offer acupuncture as an additional service while continuing in their original professions.

Education and Training Requirements

Acupuncture is a relatively new profession in the United States. Available training varies from apprenticeship to three-year postgraduate programs. About forty states have established training standards for acupuncture certification, but states have varied requirements for obtaining a license to practice acupuncture. In some states, you must first be a doctor of medicine (M.D.) or a chiropractor. However, in other states, a master's of acupuncture (C.A.) at an accredited postgraduate school provides the qualifications necessary for certification. This degree usually consists of two years of study plus a year of supervised practice. Most schools require previous undergraduate study with a focus in anatomy and physiology. The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine accredits acupuncture schools in the United States. Contact them for a list of accredited schools.

Getting the Job

Most acupuncturists are self-employed. Only a small percentage are affiliated with hospitals. Until recently, nearly all students in acupuncture schools came from careers in the medical field. Upon graduation, they were advised to continue their previous work and develop their acupuncture practices as second jobs. There is no established route for graduates to enter practice.

Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is an increasing demand for alternative health care practitioners, such as acupuncturists. Acupuncture treatments are increasingly covered by insurance. As with doctors, advancement comes with building a practice.

Acupuncturists work in comfortable offices that must be kept quiet and clean. They can usually set their own hours. Some work late on certain evenings for the convenience of their patients. A few work in hospitals or clinics.

Where to Go for More Information

American Academy of Medical Acupuncture
4929 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 428
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(323) 937-5514

Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine
7501 Greenway Center Dr., Ste. 820
Greenbelt, MD 20770
(301) 313-0855

Earnings and Benefits

The median salary for acupuncturists in 2005 was $50,000 per year. However, the median salary was quite different in different parts of the country. In Texas, for example, the median salary in 2005 was $32,500, while in California it was $65,000. Acupuncturists in private practice must provide their own benefits.

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