Becoming an acupuncturist in California

In California, there are specific requirements that must be met in order to practice acupuncture. In general, you will need to complete the following steps:
  1. Education: In California, acupuncture practitioners must have a Master's degree in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine (MAcCHM) from an accredited acupuncture school approved by the California Acupuncture Board. This typically involves completing a 4 year program at an accredited acupuncture school or college. Acupuncture schools in California are plentiful and the state has become a leader in the field of acupuncture education. Read a comparison of acupuncture degrees here.
    Admission Requirements: Schools offering degrees in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) are typically graduate-level institutions. Either a bachelor's degree or a minimum of 60 semester credits as described here are required for admission into an acupuncture degree program.
  2. Licensing exams: After completing your acupuncture education, you will need to pass California Acupuncture Licensing Examination (CALE) in order to become licensed to practice acupuncture in California1.
  3. Continuing education: In California, acupuncture practitioners are required to complete 50 CEU's of continuing education every two years in order to maintain their license to practice acupuncture. This may involve attending seminars, workshops, or classes on acupuncture and TCM topics in order to keep your knowledge and skills up to date.
  4. Certification: In California, acupuncture practitioners may also choose to pursue certification through the NCCAOM in order to specialize in certain areas of acupuncture or to demonstrate a higher level of expertise. Certification through the NCCAOM requires additional education and training beyond the requirements for licensing.
  5. Clinical Specialty: Choosing a clinical specialty is not a prerequisite for acupuncture licensure or practice in California. However, specialization can be beneficial for professional development and can help to attract patients seeking expertise in particular health issues. Read more about acupuncture areas of clinical specialty here.

It is important to note that these are the general requirements for practicing acupuncture in California. It is a good idea to check with the California Acupuncture Board for the most up-to-date information on the requirements for practicing acupuncture in California.

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What are the prerequisites and coursework required to enter an
acupuncture degree program?

For individuals interested in entering a Master of Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine (MAcCHM) degree program in California, there are specific credit requirements that must be met, based on the guidelines set by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM) and the California Acupuncture Board. These requirements can vary slightly between institutions, but generally, they include:

  • Prerequisite Education: Most TCM graduate schools require a minimum of 60 semester credits (or 90 quarter credits) from an accredited institution as a prerequisite for admission into a master's program. These credits are roughly equivalent to two years of undergraduate education.
  • Coursework: The prerequisite coursework typically must include a balance of general education and specific subjects relevant to healthcare. For example, courses in biology, chemistry, physics, psychology, and general humanities are often required. Some institutions may also require courses specifically related to health, such as anatomy, physiology, or health sciences, to ensure students have a foundational understanding of the human body and healthcare.
  • GPA: Most programs require a minimum GPA for the prerequisite coursework, often around 2.5 or higher, on a 4.0 scale.
  • Additional Requirements: Beyond academic prerequisites, applicants may need to demonstrate English proficiency (if a non-native speaker), complete an application essay, provide letters of recommendation, and possibly undergo an interview process. Some schools might also require or recommend that applicants have some exposure to or experience in healthcare, particularly in fields related to TCM or integrative medicine.

Some acupuncture schools in California offer an entry-level doctorate or Doctor of Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (DATCM) degree program. The prerequisite education requirements are the same as the MATCM but with an additional 30 credits for a total of 90 semester credits for admission into a DATCM program. This is roughly equivalent to 3 years of undergraduate education from an accredited school.

You can compare the two entry level degree programs here.

These prerequisite credits serve as a way to ensure that all students entering the MATCM or DACM program have a foundational level of college education, critical thinking skills, and a basic understanding of sciences relevant to healthcare and TCM studies. This approach allows students from diverse educational backgrounds to pursue a career in TCM, provided they meet these foundational academic requirements.

It's important to note that while these are common prerequisites, specific requirements can vary from one institution to another. Prospective students should check directly with the TCM graduate school they are interested in attending for the most accurate and up-to-date admission requirements.


California acupuncturists have graduated from the
Yo San University Master’s Degree Program

What is the job outlook for acupuncturists in California?

The job outlook for acupuncturists in California is generally positive. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of acupuncturists is expected to grow 18% from 2020 to 2030, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. This growth is expected to be driven by increasing demand for alternative and complementary healthcare services, as well as the growing recognition of acupuncture as a effective treatment for a variety of conditions.

In California specifically, the demand for acupuncture services may be influenced by factors such as the state's large and diverse population, the prevalence of chronic conditions and injuries, and the availability of insurance coverage for acupuncture services. It is also worth noting that the job outlook for acupuncturists may vary depending on factors such as the specific region of California in which you plan to practice and the level of competition in the local job market.

It is important to note that the job outlook for acupuncturists is just one factor to consider when planning a career in acupuncture. It is a good idea to research the job market in your area and to consider other factors such as your own interests, skills, and goals when deciding whether acupuncture is the right career path for you.

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What should I study in order to pass the California Acupuncture Board Licensing (CALE) Exam?

In order to pass the CALE, you will need to study a variety of topics related to acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). Some of the topics that you may need to study include:

  1. Acupuncture theory: This includes the principles and theories of TCM, such as the eight principles (Ba Gang), organs (Zang Fu), meridians/channels (Jing Luo), six stages (Liu Jing), four levels (Wei, Qi, Ying, Xue), five elements (Wu Xing), Qi, blood, and body fluids (Qi, Xue, Jin Ye), and the triple burner (San Jiao).
  2. Acupuncture points: You will need to learn about the various acupuncture points on the body and how to use acupuncture needles to stimulate these points to promote the flow of Qi (vital energy) and blood in the body.
  3. Herbal medicine: You will need to study the principles and theories of herbal medicine, as well as the properties and indications of various herbs used in TCM.
  4. Acupuncture techniques: You will need to study various acupuncture techniques, such as scalp acupuncture, ear acupuncture, and facial acupuncture, and learn how to properly perform these techniques.
  5. Diagnosis: You will need to study the principles and techniques of diagnosis in TCM, including how to gather and interpret information about a patient's symptoms, physical examination, and medical history.
  6. Treatment planning: You will need to learn how to develop treatment plans based on the principles of TCM and the specific needs of each patient.
  7. Safety and sterilization: You will need to study the principles of safe and sterile acupuncture practice and learn how to properly sterilize acupuncture needles and other equipment.

This is just a general overview of the topics that you may need to study in order to pass the California Acupuncture Board Licensing Exam. It is important to check with the California Acupuncture Board for the most up-to-date information on the specific topics that are covered on the exam.

California acupuncturists have graduated from the
Yo San University Master’s Degree Program


How many practicing acupuncturists are in California versus the rest of the U.S.?

It is difficult to accurately determine the number of practicing acupuncturists in California versus the rest of the United States, as the data on this topic may not be complete or up to date. However, according to the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM), as of 2021, there were approximately 15,000 certified acupuncturists in California. This represents a significant portion of the approximately 50,000 certified acupuncturists in the United States as a whole.

It is important to note that the number of practicing acupuncturists in any given state or region may vary depending on a variety of factors, such as population size, demand for acupuncture services, and the availability of acupuncture education and training programs. Additionally, the number of practicing acupuncturists may change over time due to factors such as retirements, relocations, and changes in the laws and regulations governing the practice of acupuncture.

Watch one of our graduates talk about becoming an acupuncturist

1. From California Acupuncture Board, Dec, 2022 - "California does not recognize out-of-state licensing (reciprocity) nor does it accept for licensure those individuals who take and pass the national examination (administered by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM)). Therefore, licensees from other states or those individuals who have passed NCCAOM's examination may not practice until they have qualified for, taken and passed the California examination.
The Acupuncture Board administers the California Acupuncture Licensing Examination (CALE) and offers the examination in Mandarin, Korean and English. The CALE is based on and validated by an occupational analysis. The passing score on the examination is determined by subject matter experts (SMEs) who use a criterion-referenced scoring method."


To practice acupuncture should I choose a Master's Degree or an Entry-level Doctorate Degree ?

Choosing between a Master's Degree and an entry-level or first professional Doctorate Degree in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine involves considering various factors, including educational depth, career aspirations, cost, and time commitment. Both paths require approximately four years of study and provide a comprehensive understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), acupuncture, and herbal medicine. However, they cater to slightly different career objectives and opportunities.

Master's Degree in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine

Overview: A Master's degree program typically focuses on providing a solid foundation in the theory and practice of acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine. It is designed to prepare students for licensure and competent practice in the field. The curriculum covers diagnostics, treatment strategies, needling techniques, and the study of Chinese herbs, along with some introduction to integrative medicine practices.

Reasons to Choose:

  1. Slightly faster Route to Licensure: For those eager to enter the profession quickly, a Master's degree can be a faster route to meeting licensure requirements set by the NCCAOM and state acupuncture boards. For example, at Yo San University, the Master's Degree program requires 3375 hours and the Entry-level Doctorate Degree program requires 3600 hours, for a total difference of about 275 hours.
  2. Cost-Effectiveness: Generally, Master's programs are less expensive than Doctorate programs, making this an economically viable option for many students. At Yo San University the Master's tuition is $68,570 versus the Doctoral tuition of $72,000 for a difference of about $3500.
  3. Sufficient for Practice: In many jurisdictions, a Master's degree is sufficient for licensure and practice, allowing graduates to start their careers without the need for further education.
  4. Focus on Clinical Skills: These programs often emphasize clinical skills and practical experience, preparing graduates for direct patient care.

Entry-Level Doctorate Degree in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine

Overview: An entry-level or first professional Doctorate degree in acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine provides an advanced level of education, integrating more extensive training in research, evidence-based practice, and possibly more in-depth study of biomedicine, healthcare systems, and policy. This degree is also aimed at preparing students for licensure and practice but with an added emphasis on integrative medicine and research within the field of TCM.

Reasons to Choose:

  1. Advanced Knowledge and Skills: A Doctorate degree offers a deeper understanding and broader skill set, which can be advantageous in clinical practice, especially for handling complex cases or integrating TCM with Western medicine.
  2. Career Advancement: With a Doctorate, professionals are better positioned for leadership roles, academic positions, and opportunities in integrative health care settings.
  3. Research Opportunities: Those interested in contributing to the evidence base of TCM will find the Doctorate programs offer more opportunities for research, scholarship, and dissemination of findings.
  4. Recognition and Credibility: Holding a Doctorate degree can enhance professional credibility, potentially leading to higher income opportunities and the ability to influence the development of TCM practices and policies.

Making the Choice

Choosing between a Master's and a Doctorate should align with your career goals, financial considerations, and the time you are willing to commit to education. If your aim is to quickly enter the field with solid foundational skills and begin practicing, a Master's degree may be sufficient. However, if you aspire to advance in the field of TCM, engage in research, take on leadership roles, or contribute to the integration of TCM within Western healthcare systems, pursuing an entry-level Doctorate might be the more appropriate path.

Both paths require dedication and a deep commitment to the study and practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Prospective students should consider their long-term career aspirations, the specific requirements of their preferred practice locations, and their interest in contributing to the broader field of integrative medicine when making this decision.


Should I consider an area of clinical specialty for my degree in acupuncture ?

Pursuing a degree to become a practicing acupuncturist in California offers a unique opportunity to integrate Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) with the diverse healthcare needs of a broad population. California, being at the forefront of alternative and integrative medicine in the United States, provides a fertile ground for TCM practitioners. The decision to choose a clinical specialty should be influenced by your interests, career goals, and the needs of the community you wish to serve. Specializing can enhance your skills in a particular area of TCM, making you more attractive to specific patient populations and potentially increasing your professional opportunities.

The Value of Specialization

  1. Expertise: Specialization allows you to deepen your knowledge and skills in a particular area of TCM, leading to a higher level of expertise.
  2. Market Demand: Some specialties may have higher demand in certain areas, depending on the health concerns of the local population.
  3. Professional Recognition: Specialists often gain recognition as experts in their field, which can enhance referral opportunities and professional standing.
  4. Personal Interest: Pursuing a specialty that aligns with your personal interests can lead to a more fulfilling career.

Potential Specialties in Acupuncture and TCM

  • Pain Management: This is one of the most common reasons patients seek acupuncture treatment. Specializing in pain management can involve treating chronic pain conditions, sports injuries, and post-surgical pain, among others.
  • Women’s Health: Specializing in women's health involves addressing issues such as menstrual disorders, fertility challenges, pregnancy, postpartum recovery, and menopause.
  • Pediatrics: Pediatric acupuncture and TCM can offer non-invasive treatments for common childhood conditions, ranging from digestive issues to allergies and sleep problems.
  • Mental Health: Focusing on mental health and emotional well-being, this specialty addresses anxiety, depression, stress, and other psychological conditions through acupuncture and TCM.
  • Oncology Support: Specializing in oncology support involves helping cancer patients manage the side effects of chemotherapy and radiation, improve their quality of life, and support their overall well-being.
  • Sports Medicine: This specialty focuses on treating sports-related injuries, improving athletic performance, and preventing injuries through the use of acupuncture and TCM.

Choosing the Right Specialty

When deciding on a specialty, consider the following:

  • Market Needs: Research the health care needs of the community where you plan to practice. Understanding local demographics and health trends can guide your choice.
  • Personal Passion: Choose a specialty that you are passionate about, as this will drive your commitment to continual learning and excellence in practice.
  • Educational Opportunities: Ensure that your educational program offers specialized training or electives in your area of interest.
  • Career Opportunities: Consider the potential for employment, collaboration with other healthcare professionals, and the ability to establish a niche practice in your chosen specialty.

In California, with its diverse population and openness to integrative medicine approaches, there's a significant opportunity to make a profound impact in any of these specialties. Engaging in continuing education, networking with other TCM professionals, and joining professional associations related to your specialty can further enhance your skills and opportunities in the field.

Ultimately, the choice to specialize should align with your interests, the needs of the community, and the type of practice you envision for yourself. Each specialty offers unique challenges and rewards, contributing to the overall goal of improving patient health and well-being through the principles and practices of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

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