How to Find an Acupuncturist and Chinese Medical Herbalist

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By Jason Bazilian, DAOM, MTOM, L.Ac.

Today, increasing numbers of people are seeking complementary health care professionals as part of their wellness regimen and personal wellness team. And finding the perfect Acupuncturist is easier than ever today, but it does take knowing what to look for. Whether it’s an ongoing, chronic issue like back pain, arthritic knees, headaches, PMS, or a more acute condition like a cold, post-surgical recovery, or a preventive care ‘tune-up’ or to simply relax, acupuncture and the traditional medical system from China might just be worth the experience.

Chinese Medical Herbalist

According to the most recent National Health Interview Survey (2007), roughly 3.1 million adults and 150,000 children in the U.S. had used acupuncture in 2006 alone. The growth, acceptance, and usage of acupuncture and Chinese medicine in the United States has increased steadily and rapidly since it was first brought to the public’s attention in the U.S. in 1971. There are more than 20,000 licensed acupuncturists in the United States today with the greatest concentration of professionals in California, Florida, New York, Oregon, Texas and Colorado. There are more than 50 accredited educational colleges and institutions in the United States, and the number of doctoral-level granting institutions (first accredited and established in 2003) is growing each year as well.

As a licensed profession in virtually every state, there’s really nothing standing in the way of finding the best practitioner for your individualized health care needs in today’s integrative medical environment . . . except maybe knowing how to find the best acupuncturist and/or Chinese medical herbalist for you.

Today, well-trained, educated and experienced practitioners are found in nearly every metropolitan area in the United States. And as with all professions, having the right training and necessary qualifications are essential. Like many professions in the healthcare field, acupuncture practitioners must earn and keep current with their licensures through their educational degrees and continuing education. In an area of healthcare that may still be less familiar to some individuals, here are some considerations so you can find a practitioner who is both qualified and a good fit for your or your family’s personal health-related needs.

The ‘Letters to Look For’ after a Practitioner’s Name

Licensure and Certification to Practice

Unique to each state, most states use L.Ac. (licensed acupuncturist) as their professional licensure. It must be state-specific and current for a practitioner to practice in that state. L.Ac. is the state licensure in many states including California, Oregon, Connecticut, New York and others. Other state licensures specific to their state include A.P. (Florida) and D.O.M. (New Mexico). There is also a national certification obtained through educational requirements and a national exam called the Diplomate in Acupuncture (Dipl. Ac.). Similarly, if a practitioner has met the requirements and passed another exam for Chinese herbal medicine, he or she can obtain the Diplomate in Chinese Herbology certification (Dipl. C.H.)

Education

There are two main graduate level educational degrees offered at accredited institutions in the United States: M.T.O.M and D.A.O.M.

The Master’s of Traditional Oriental Medicine is a combined classroom and clinical master’s degree consisting of 3,000-4,000 hours that prepare graduates to be eligible to take the state and national licensure examinations. The Doctoral degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is the highest level of education in the field. Practitioners and researchers who choose to go beyond the Master’s level may continue into a doctoral program that lasts generally 2-3 additional years. There are presently approximately ten schools nationally approved by the U.S. Department of Education and currently offering the doctoral degree along with a few hundred practitioners nationwide having already completed their doctorates.

Essential Questions to Ask When Seeking an Acupuncturist in Your Area

Finding an acupuncturist takes a bit of footwork just like finding the right home and community for your family or the right person to care for your children when you’re out to work or on a date-night with your spouse. Your health and your health “care” are important and asking the right questions and interviewing a few people in advance are essential elements in assuring your best care whether it’s for acupuncture or any other part of your healthcare team.

The Core 7 Questions

1. Does the practitioner have experience with your specific condition/health needs?
2. Is the practitioner licensed in your state? And is the practitioner certified by the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine)?
(Acupuncture and herbal certification are separate designations through the NCCAOM)
3. Has the practitioner completed any additional specialization and training?
4. How long does a treatment last? (Average 45-60 minutes)
5. What is the cost of treatment? (Generally $50-$150/session is a average national range depending on area of the country, experience and expertise of the practitioner.)
6. Does the office handle insurance if you have coverage?
7. Ask any other personal health-related questions you may have at the time of your interview or initial appointment. Be prepared and write down your questions in advance of your scheduled treatment time.

Other Personal Considerations to Evaluate:

Is the office location reasonably convenient to you?
Are you receiving confident, intelligent responses to your questions?
Does the office staff sound pleasant and respectful of your needs and inquiries?
Do you feel comfortable and respected when visiting the office? Trust and rapport need to be established with the practitioner (and her/his staff), so this is your subjective assessment of how you feel.

Getting Started

Referrals can also be good resources to consider for your care from a friend or other trusted healthcare practitioner. Your health really does require an investment of your time, energy and of course, your hard-earned dollars, too. So you want to make great decisions that suit your own needs. Surrounding yourself with a balanced healthcare team can be the best defense against illness and the best offense to ensure a healthy, vibrant life. So do your homework and establish personal rapport for your own best care. Ask lots of questions and be proactive about finding expert healthcare for yourself.

Additional resources for you:

Search for Nationally Certified Acupuncturists at:
www.nccaom.org
National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (Alexandria, VA)
www.acufinder.com
AcuFinder.com Acupuncturist Referral Service

Search for State Licensures by searching (e.g. Google) for:
State Board for Acupuncture in “your state”
Licensed acupuncturists in “your state”

Note: some general websites including acufinder.com and yellowbook.com will advertise licensed practitioners (paid advertising) but may not reflect all licensed and qualified practitioners in your area. Search for licensure via the state board and/or call practitioners in the yellow pages or through personal referral and ask them about their licensure and experience directly.

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