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Is Your Healthcare Provider Qualified to Offer Acupuncture?

The ancient practice of acupuncture involves inserting hair thin needles into the skin at precise points on the body delivering profound healing benefits. The popularity of naturopathic therapies and acupuncture in particular has increased significantly in recent years causing a surge in demand among primary care physicians, physical therapists, and chiropractors despite many lacking knowledge and training in acupuncture.

Patients and providers alike would like to relieve pain and stimulate Qi (the healing energy within) for therapeutic benefit. The problem is that acupuncture of any kind can cause problems if it is not done properly. It requires extensive training and supervised practice.

Let’s review the education and training of the various healthcare providers who may be incorporating acupuncture into their treatment plans. Because requirements for each profession vary from state to state we will focus on the state of Arizona, the home of Southwest Integrative Medicine.

Physical Therapists (PT)

A physical therapy candidate must complete an undergraduate degree in a science field and then earn a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree which requires an additional 3-4 years of study. Licensed physical therapists are not required to undergo a clinical residency or fellowship. While physical therapists do gain a comprehensive understanding of the human body including the causes and relief of pain, none of the current curricula required involves the administration of acupuncture. Recently introduced classes in dry needling, a form of acupuncture, only provide one long weekend of instruction. This type of acupcunture is actually not even acupuncture as there is no regard for the principals of chinese medicine or the traditional acupuncture points used. 

Medical Doctors (MD)

To be a medical doctor, candidates must first complete an undergraduate degree, medical school, and a one-year hospital internship, residency or fellowship program. Their curriculum covers physiology, anatomy, neurology, radiology, biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, pediatrics and gynecology. During the last two years of medical school, they observe, but are not responsible for patient care until their residencies.  In most cases, their training does not include clinical nutrition, psychological counseling, homeopathic medicine, or acupuncture. Some do choose to get acupuncture training through an offered weekend course which focuses on "medical acupuncture" This type of acupuncture is a crash course in which acupuncture points to use for what conditions but does not focus on the fundamentals of Chinese medicine theory. The result of such acupucnture treatments will be limited. 


To be a certified chiropractor in the US, a candidate must complete an accredited 4-year chiropractic degree program. Most require the completion of an undergraduate degree prior to admission. The curriculum covers the basic sciences in the first two years. The third and fourth years cover clinical sciences and physiological therapeutics. In some states, candidates are also required to complete an internship or residency for 1 to 3 years which covers diagnostic imaging, chiropractic technique, and case management. After the education and practical training is complete, the candidate must pass national and state board exams in order to be certified. Similar to medical doctor training, acupuncture is not taught in chiropractic school but can be taken through a weekend course. These are typically the same type taught to MD's but may focus more on treatments that help with spinal related injuries. 

Naturopathic Medical Doctor (NMD)

Naturopathic medical doctors (NMD) and naturopathic doctors (ND) are required to complete an undergraduate degree, naturopathic medical school which covers physiology, anatomy, neurology, radiology, biochemistry, microbiology, pharmacology, pediatrics and gynecology as well as holistic, nontoxic therapies such as acupuncture, hydrotherapy, homeopathy, botanical and nutritional medicine that prevents disease and optimizes wellness. They must also pass the rigorous Naturopathic Physicians Licensing Exam (NPLEX) which covers basic sciences, diagnostic, therapeutic subjects and clinical sciences.

A naturopathic doctor has a significant amount of hands-on training during the last two years of medical school under the supervision of licensed naturopathic doctors at the school’s teaching clinics and off-site clinics. This hands on training takes the place of formal residencies. In most schools formal acupuncture is not taught but the theory of acupuncture is briefly discussed. The schools that do teach acupuncture take a similar but more indepth approach to the training for a chiropractor or MD, "medical acupuncture." Because of the limited training some people choose to get seperate degree's in acupuncture. This is called a "dual track" of naturopathic medicine and acupuncture. 

Licensed Acupuncturist

In order to gain licensure for acupuncture in the state of Arizona, a candidate must complete a board-approved program of acupuncture that involves 1,850 hours or more of training including no less than 800 hours of clinical experience. They must complete a clean needle technique course and be certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

In order to gain the Diplomate of Acupuncture (DiplAcu) distinction from NCCAOM, a candidate would need to have comprehensive training in traditional differential diagnosis and proper treatment methods via three to four academic years of graduate level education in an acupuncture program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) and demonstrate professional competency by passing NCCAOM certification examinations in Foundations of Oriental Medicine, Acupuncture, and Biomedicine.

As you can see, while many healthcare providers have extensive training and knowledge, only licensed acupuncturists and those that have degree's in acupunctre have had the training, practice, and exposure to effectively use acupuncture. It is a powerful healing tool. It would be unwise to use it or allow it to be used on you if the practitioner has not had sufficient training.

The doctors at Southwest Integrative Medicine, Dr. Christy Cline and Dr. Robin Terranella, are naturopathic doctors and licensed acupuncturist with thousands of hours of training and many years of practice helping patients with acupuncture. If you would like to know more about how you could benefit from acupuncture treatments, contact us at 480-451-5407 or contact us online.


Free E-book:  Understanding Acupuncture

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