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What type of Education is required and how much does it cost to become a Licensed Acupuncturist?

 UPDATE - I received my license on June 6th!!


I am presently in transition from Illinois to Washington. Transferring my acupuncture license has been no small task and I am hoping to receive my Washington license any day now so that I can begin practicing here in Seattle.


I think it is important that the public and especially patients of East Asian medicine know how well trained their acupuncturist really is. Since I was trained in and have practiced only in Illinois thus far, this article will focus on requirements for Illinois specifically, but Washington state is not much different. 


In the state of Illinois, Acupuncture is regulated by the Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. A 3-4 year degree from a state-approved nationally accredited Master's degree program is required to become a licensed Acupuncturist ( L.Ac. ). In addition, certification by the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) is also required.


Each candidate must pass a series of rigorous board exams and become certified in Clean Needle Technique. After passing these exams, candidates  receive diplomate status in Oriental Medicine ( Dipl. OM ).**

A Master of Science (Traditional Oriental Medicine) is awarded following the completion of 11 terms of classes. A total of 191.24 Units (approximately 3,527 hours) are required.


These courses include several hours of Master level classes in Western medicine:

Anatomy and Physiology 1-4, Biology, Biochemistry, Pathophysiology 1 & 2, Physical Exam, Pharmacology, Clinical Science 1 & 2, Western Nutrition, Clinical Counseling 1-3, Orthopedic/Neurologic Evaluation 1 & 2, Clinical Research & Design Statistics.


Along with several hours of instruction in East Asian medicine including:


Acupuncture Points 1 to 5. Needle Technique, Auricular Acupuncture, Herbology 1 to10, Tui Na Massage Structural Techniques and Hand Techniques, Diagnosis and Treatment of Disease 1 to 7, Eastern Nutrition, Qi Gong & Tai Qi, Clinical Rounds 1-6, Clinical Internship 1 to 9 and Medical/Legal Report Writing.


Please note that this includes several hours of practical needling classes as well as a year long internship treating patients under the supervision of a licensed acupuncturist. 


I will not lie, it was a very intense course of study and though I was definitely properly informed about the time commitment required, I really did not know what it was actually like until I had gone through one term. 


This was, by far, the most academically, emotionally and physically challenging course of learning I have ever experienced. It pushed me beyond anything I ever thought was possible for myself and I am a better person for it.


I had several nurses and a even an M.D. in my cohort and they were all very clear that getting this type of education was on par with medical school in terms of difficulty and time commitment. I felt very overwhelmed taking 17 credit hours per term and after a while, I decided to slow things down a bit and I ended up on the five year plan. 


So, let's talk about cost.


An education to become a licensed acupuncturist is not cheap. Most students leave with any where between $50,000 to $100,000 or more in debt and they all know (unless the admissions department at their school lied to them) that the chances of making a salary exceeding $30,000.00 to $40.000.00 when you first graduate is very difficult.*** In fact,  according to this article,  if you are $100,000.00 in debt, you will generally owe about $1,151.00 per month which would require you to make a salary of $80,000 to $90,000 to afford this payment comfortably. 


Not everyone in my cohort was taking out student loans and no, I'm not a complete idiot, I  knew what I was getting into, but I wanted to be an acupuncturist so badly that the cost, student loans and subsequent debt was not my primary concern. To be honest it still isn't because I love what I do.


I will, however, tell you that this journey has not been an easy one and there have been a few times where I really contemplated quitting, but so far, with a great deal of support from my mentors, family and friends, I have persevered.


Moving to Seattle has really brightened that spark of desire I had when I first began this journey back in 2001.  I await my license with bated breath!



** The term Oriental is an outdated term which is being phased out by many schools and especially state associations, unfortunately, my degree still officially holds this term in its title. Eventually, this term will be phased out of all institutions associated with East Asian medicine.


***This is just an estimate of entry level salary. Everyone is going to have a different experience and this number can also vary from state to state.

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