What is an Acupuncturist?
This is a person who practices the medical art of acupuncture, which is a traditional and classic Asian practice. It originated over 1000 years ago in China and is thought to promote proper functioning and natural healing of your body. It is thought that using acupuncture may help with ailments such as fibromyalgia, arthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, and low-back pain. It is one of the classical healing arts and it is practiced around the world. There are two types of licensed acupuncture practitioners, which include:
- Licensed acupuncturist who is licensed to practice acupuncture;
- Medical acupuncturist who is a physician and is also licensed to practice acupuncture.
Job Description of an Acupuncturist
An acupuncturist will help a patient cure various disorders in order to help them live a normal life free of pain and the disorder. When a patient goes to see an acupuncturist, the acupuncturist will study the patient’s case and carefully evaluate all of the details that are related to their past health conditions and their health at the present time. They will also study all the diseases and disorders the patient is suffering from. After carefully studying the patient’s case the decision the acupuncturist comes to will help them to know the place of insertion of the needles. The needles that an acupuncturist uses are hair-fine solid needles.
In order to get to know the patient, an interview is done first and then the acupuncturist will do an examination. You will feel the patient’s pulses, palpate various areas of their body, and their tongue. Many times you will use the tool of the tongue diagnosis to help you gain valuable clues about the patient’s general health. You will also listen to the patient’s lungs. After the interview and exam, you will come up with a diagnosis and treatment plan. Many times after you have done all of this you will give your patient their first acupuncture treatment.
When you are treating a patient, you will have them lie flat on a table that is adjusted to the height of the acupuncturist. You may have your patient undress and for modesty, cover themselves with cloths or have them remain fully clothed. It depends on where you will be putting the needles. The needles will be placed in the patient at different parts of their body at angles that range from 15 to 90 degrees relative to the skin, depending on the judgment of the acupuncturist. Once you have the needles inserted the needles may be gently vibrated, manipulated by hand in a twisting motion, cooled, electrified with a gentle current to stimulate the meridian, or heated.
Some of the other basic duties of an acupuncturist can include:
- Preparing different herbs to treat the different conditions and disorders
- Maintaining standard quality and safety along with environmental procedures and policies
- Keeping accurate and complete health records of your patients
- Making sure that all your patients files are regularly checked and updated
- Making sure that you are adhering to all the national and state regulations
- Keeping equipment clean and sterilized
Being an acupuncturist, you need to have a presence of mind, steady hands, able to concentrate for long periods of time, complete knowledge of the techniques of acupuncture, flawless hand-eye coordination, and requisite skills. If you make any mistakes in inserting the needles, it can affect the patient’s health. You should also have good listening skills, and be compassionate.
How to Become an Acupuncturist?
To become an acupuncturist, you will be required to have a bachelor’s degree in a wellness-related field along with a solid science background. You do not need to have your associate’s degree first, but you will need a high school diploma or its equivalent. If you have thought of pursuing any medical career while in high school you should take as many science-related courses as you can including biology, general science, and chemistry. Once you have your bachelor’s degree, you can start your graduate-level study of acupuncture. There are approximately 50 programs that have been accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) that can provide you a master’s degree in acupuncture.
To get a master’s degree in acupuncture, it can take 3 to 6 years. During this program, you will develop your expertise in accessing and identifying the many acupuncture points found on the body. You will also have classes in Qi Gong, bodywork therapy, meridian theory, needle techniques, herbal medicine, and clinical practice. You will also take basic medical courses such as anatomy and physiology, medical terminology, and biomedicine. In some master degree programs, the program will combine Oriental medicine with acupuncture studies. Most master degree programs require you to do an internship along with practice and clinical hours. When you graduate with a master’s degree, it is normally labeled as either a Master of Science in Acupuncture (MSA) or a Master of Science in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (MSAOM). If you enrolled in the program to get your MSAOM degree, you would also learn about the procedures of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
There are doctorate programs if you want to continue your education. If you decide to further your education, you enroll in the Doctorate of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM) program. This program will provide practicing acupuncturist a greater expertise in Western and Oriental medicine. It is the highest credential that you can get in the field of acupuncture today. To get into this program, you must have a master’s degree in Oriental medicine along with certification or current licensure. At this time, there are only 9 colleges that are accredited by ACAOM to offer DAOM programs. In this program, you would gain proficiency in clinical teaching and clinical research. The program offers hands-on training in Chinese therapeutics and herbal medicine. Some of the schools also offer specialty focus areas such as advanced pain management and oncology. You would take courses in acupuncture in oncology, advanced acupuncture therapy, living anatomy, and more. If you have a doctorate, you can work as educators of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) or TCM practitioners.
To be licensed as an acupuncturist most states will require that The National Certification credential you for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). In order to be suitable for this certification, you will need to pass an examination and graduated from an ACAOM-accredited program. Once you have fitted these conditions, you are approved to be a recognized licensed and board certified acupuncturist. The certificate you receive will be good for 4 years and by meeting the continuing education requirements you can be re-certified. If you are going to be self-employed, there are some states that will require you to also have a business license.
Work Environment and Schedule
When working as an acupuncturist you can work in various job settings such as cancer treatment units, hospices, addiction rehabilitation centers, health clinics, general practice, and care home. You may also work with in partnership with physicians or chiropractors. You may even be able to work for an Oriental medical center. When working in a chiropractor office or Oriental medical center you could work as an independent acupuncturist and collaborate with other natural healing professionals such as naturopaths and massage therapists. Most acupuncturists that are not self-employed will work a Monday thru Friday schedule during the day. In some health clinics, hospice, cancer centers, addiction rehab centers, etc. you may have evening hours or you may work an evening shift. Occasionally you may work weekends. Most shifts are 8 hours. If you hold your own practice, you can set your own hours. There are some acupuncturists who are self-employed and go to various patients’ homes to do the treatments so the hours they would work would depend on the schedule set up with the patient.
Generally most acupuncturists have their own private clinics but they will still require the same specialized equipment as any other medical professional would. This includes sufficient storage space for equipment and remedies along with a locked area for the needles, a waiting room, an interview and examination room, and a surgery or treatment room. You would also need to hire a medical assistant and medical receptionist to take care of all the administrative duties. Some acupuncturists may work in a hospital, but it would only be in the states that legally recognize and accept the practice of acupuncture.
When seeing a patient for the first time in any work environment, the first step would be to do an interview so you can know the patient’s primary complaint. During the interview, you will be able to assess their general health, nature, and attitude. The next action would be to inspect the patient to get valuable clues as to their general health. After the interview and exam, you would come up with a diagnosis and set up an appointment to begin their acupuncture treatments, or you could give them their first treatment that day. In general, the office visit can take 30 minutes to one hour and if you do their first treatment that day once you have inserted the needles they will be left in place for 15 minutes to 45 minutes. How long the session will actually last will depend on the desired results and techniques used. On average, most acupuncturists figure patients in every 2 hours to 2 hours and 30 minutes so in an 8-hour day you could see 3 or 4 patients. You may see a patient only one time, or it may be 5 times a week, all depending on their disorder and how long they have had it.
Pros and Cons of Being an Acupuncturist
When you tell someone that you are licensed acupuncturist you may get some strange looks because there are some people who do not believe that sticking needles in someone’s body works and helps to cure their disorder. It is a legitimate medical profession in which you need to have a bachelor’s degree in to begin your graduate level study of acupuncture. If you have a fear of needles or do not like the thought of sticking needles in someone else, then this is not the career for you. Before you decide if you want to pursue a care as an acupuncturist let us look at the pros and cons of this medical profession.
- You can be self-employed. That means a lot of independence, and you can govern your own schedule. Obviously, you can choose to hire other acupuncturists too, or just remain alone. If you are a good manager and have a clear vision, this will also bring more income to your household.
- There are many work environments to choose from. In other words, even if you get bored after a while, due to working in the same setting, you can always move to another place or – as stated above – start your own practice. Then it’s also about the different conditions you will work with in these places, because certain environments naturally mean another schedule.
- With experience, you could work your way into a 6-figure income. Considering that it’s not a complicated job and not even dangerous (such as building skyscrapers would be), a 6-figure income is more than motivating. You can earn a stable income, and easily establish your family or develop your own business in your free time.
- After getting your bachelor’s degree, you could further your education and get a master’s degree. Again, this means more income, but also more stability. Experienced acupuncturists have huge advantages against beginners or against those who don’t have as much experience.
- If you are self-employed, you have to pay for all your own business costs. In that case, you need to do the math and see whether it’s worth it or not. You can easily face an illusion, considering that it’s all fine, but in the end when you check numbers there would be losses.
- You have to have a bachelor’s degree that can take up to 3 years to obtain. If you don’t have time, money or patience to study for 3 years, then this career is not for you. Without a bachelor’s degree, there’s no other way around to get into this field and work.
- In 2015, the starting average annual salary was $27,310 which is on the low end of the salary range. However, with experience and further education, your income will grow considerably.
- If you go on for a master’s degree, that means another 3 years of schooling and more student loans. That may pay off later, if you work hard for it, but it’s still not too easy.
- You have to work with all types of bodies and people
- You have to work with needles all day
- You are on your feet minimally half of the day when you are doing the acupuncture treatments.
- Because most acupuncturists own their own clinics, they are responsible for hiring employees to work in their clinic.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the expected growth rate for acupuncturists between 2012 and 2022 is between 8% and 14%. What the exact salary of an acupuncturist would be depends on several factors, which include how large of a patient base you have, the location where you work, if you are self-employed, and the years of experience. It is a very skilled profession, and although the entry-level salary is low, you can expect increases as you gain more experience. There is also a benefits package you can receive if you are not self-employed. When you are self-employed and have employees, you will be the one providing the benefits package and paying for your own malpractice insurance. If you receive a benefits package it could include:
- Paid vacation, sick and holidays
- Life, medical, dental, and/or vision and can include your family
- Profit sharing
- Bonuses that are quarterly or yearly
- Maternity leave
- Long and short term disability
- Malpractice insurance paid for
- Reimbursement for continuing education courses
Depending on your work conditions there may be other benefits. If you are a contract worker that works for a chiropractor or Oriental medical center you may or may not have benefits. Many times instead of receiving a regular hourly was an acupuncturist will be paid based on the session fees and the number of patients they have. Being self-employed you could charge $40 to $70 a session.
Salary of an Acupuncturist in 2016
In 2016, the average annual salary for an acupuncturist was $80,000, but this is most likely for an entry-level position. The biggest factor in what an average annual salary for an acupuncturist is the residence or geographical location followed by the number of years of experience.
Acupuncturist Salary in Canada, Australia and the UK
In the UK, an acupuncturist can earn on average £40 per session but they can charge up to £90 per session. Their average annual salary is £12,500 to £40,000. In Australia, the average annual salary is AU$54,315 and in Canada the average annual salary is C$42,727.
Conclusion on Acupuncturist Salary
Women account for approximately 62% of all acupuncturists in the United States. It is a medical profession that allows you to be self-employed with your own acupuncture clinic, you can be a contract worker for a chiropractor or Oriental medical center, or work in other clinics, drug rehab centers, hospice and more. Being an acupuncturist allows you so many different work environments. It is a career that you can work at in any state or country. In addition to the salary, you may also have a great benefits package. If you are a good acupuncturist, you could average around 20-40 patients a week. It is a known fact that acupuncture is a relatively new field of medicine so many acupuncturists earn less than what a medical professional in a similar field, such as one who works in physiotherapy or chiropractic but as the field of acupuncture grows so will the salary.