Created by the Center for Spirituality & Healing and Charlson Meadows.

Is TCM Regulated?

As you have no doubt realized, the practice of TCM involves a lot more than just the insertion of acupuncture needles. To become a competent and qualified TCM practitioner in the United States requires three to four years of full time post-graduate study at an accredited educational institution.

Just like your M.D., your TCM practitioner must adhere to rules that ensure that his or her licensing and training is up-to-date. Some fast facts about TCM regulation:

  • Most states require national board certification for TCM practitioners. Ironically, most states allow conventional medical doctors and chiropractors to practice acupuncture with little or no formal training.
  • Practitioners must complete at least three years full-time schooling before they can become eligible for the national board certification. (This is offered by the Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).
    TCM physician
  • According to the American Association of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, all but a few states have regulations in place concerning the practice of acupuncture. This usually includes licensing requirements for non-MD practitioners and specifications on scope of practice for MDs and other health professionals..
  • Most of these states require national board certification as a prerequisite for state certification or licensure.

So TCM is indeed quite carefully regulated.

What certification do TCM providers get?

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) provides national board certification for TCM practitioners.

NCCAOM is a non-profit organization established in 1982 to promote nationally recognized standards of competency and safety for the practice of acupuncture, Chinese herbal medicine, and Oriental bodywork.

To be eligible to take the NCCAOM exam, an applicant must have successfully completed a formal education in acupuncture or Oriental medicine through an accredited school (although apprenticeship can allow for eligibility in certain cases). See the table for education requirements.

Type of CertificationRequirements
AcupunctureMust complete an accredited course of study that can document at least 1,905 hours (about 3 years full-time schooling) of didactic and clinic education.
Oriential MedicineMust complete at least 2,625 hours (about 4 years of full-time study) of didactic and clinic coursework in both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. In most states this level of education is considered equivalent to a masters level program.

At present there are more than 50 master's programs for acupuncture and Oriental medicine in the United States. The Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) is reviewing post-graduate doctoral programs as a pilot process. As of September 2008, there were three doctoral programs accredited by the pilot program and an additional seven programs that have applied for review.

Search for master's and doctoral programs.

Further Reading

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), Alexandria, Virginia.

Acupuncture and Oriental medicine licensing and regulation in the United States; state by state listings.

Expert Contributor: 
Christopher Hafner, L.Ac.

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