Truth Revealed: Becoming an Acupuncturist

Categories: Articles and Blog.

Thinking about becoming an acupuncturist? Or curious about that person sticking needles in your body? Here, we explore the real world truth about becoming an acupuncturist in the United States.

3 Steps for getting licensed to practice acupuncture …

  1. Go to school to take the boards
  2. Pass your boards to get licensed (*licensing includes Clean Needle Technique (CNT) certification)
  3. Register with your state

Step 1: SCHOOL

All accredited and candidate schools for Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine in the United States are approved by CCAOM, or the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. The CCAOM works with the US Department of Education (DOE) to promote “educational excellence within the field.”

Since all accredited schools for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine are authorized by the DOE, students are eligible for financial aid. This alone is a blessing and a curse. For many students, acupuncture is an alternative career choice, and for some a first career.

Total tuition ranges around $35-45K for most schools!

Working and going to school on an “accelerated” path for 3.5 – 4 years is tough. Some schools offer a class schedule that is standardized throughout the program. Other schools have variable schedules each term, or semester, or trimester of study. That does not include all those hours of study outside of school, which is like a job unto itself.

The POINT is that many students opt to get student loans for “living expenses” plus tuition so many finish school with $70-100K in debt at graduation!

Much of this tuition cost depends on if you choose Acupuncture only or Acupuncture with Herbs. An “Ac” student is a candidate for a Master’s degree in Acupuncture, MSAc. Other programs offer degrees that combine acupuncture and herbalism. You may see MSOM, MSTCM, or MSAOM as awarded upon graduating, these all refer to Ac + Herbs.

WHY these different degrees?

Simply, some states require a 2200-2500 hour acupuncture degree. Other states require that a practitioner have a 2500-3000+ hour Chinese medicine degree which includes herbology studies.

Step 2: BOARDS

The NCCAOM is the certifying body that governs testing for licensure to practice in the US. If you choose acupuncture there are 3 exams. If you choose acupuncture plus herbs there are 4 exams. Each exam at the moment of this writing is $300. There is a one-time registration fee for taking the exams. See below.

Bottomline, you pay to register with the NCCAOM (basically, answer a bunch of questions online and in paper, and make sure they have your transcripts) plus $300 for each exam.

Acupuncture only $475-575 + (3 tests X $300) = $1375-1475

Chinese Herbology only $425-525 + (3 tests X $300) = $1325-1425

Oriental Medicine combined $595-695 + (4 tests X $300) = $1495-1595

CNT certification, Clean Needle Technique, is also part of getting licensed through the NCCAOM. This is through the CCAOM. Remember them, they also accredit schools for us (see above). In a nutshell, CNT requires …

  1. $150 registration fee
  2. Schedule a testing date and location
  3. Pass a written and practical exam
  4. Spend 5-8 hours on a Sunday


This is THE most variable part as each state has enacted their own legislation on acupuncture practice standards. There are even a few states that have no Acupuncture Practice Act. Check with your state’s practice board.

California, the Special Note

Basically, they have their own standards … requiring longer overall educational training and lower licensing fees.

Foreign Equivalency, another Special Note

A person can also move into the country as a foreign practitioner and obtain licensure. This is how we get a host of great teachers and doctors in the United States who have practiced in hospitals abroad.

NOT all who needle, are licensed acupuncturists …

Unless you follow the legislative currents of this country as related to acupuncture healthcare practice, you may not know that there is some controversy. We touch on this under “What is the difference between Dry Needling and Acupuncture?” in our FAQ page. Read more there, but essentially ALWAYS receive acupuncture from a Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc).

At Lakewood Ranch Acupuncture and Wellness, we have highly educated practitioners with advanced training. The road to becoming an acupuncturist is not an easy one, however, it is greatly rewarding. To help folks recover their health and relieve chronic conditions is a pleasure. For those living in or visiting Sarasota and Bradenton, Florida we are in your backyard. Call our office today to schedule your next wellness session!