Oriental Medicine Practitioners


Education and Training Requirements

High School

To prepare yourself for a career as an Oriental medicine practitioner, you need to learn to understand the human body, mind, and spirit. Courses in science, particularly biology, will help you prepare for medical courses ahead. Psychology, philosophy, sociology, and comparative religion classes can help you learn about the mind and spirit. Physical education and sports training will help you prepare for the exercise and massage aspects of Oriental medicine. English, drama, debate, and speech can help you develop the communication skills you will need to relate to your clients and to build your business. Most Oriental medicine practitioners are self-employed, so you will also need business, math, and computer skills.

Postsecondary Training

In the United States, there are presently three defined career paths for Oriental medicine practitioners: acupuncture, Oriental medicine (acupuncture and Chinese herbology), and Oriental bodywork. There are more than 50 accredited schools in the United States in Oriental medicine and acupuncture. The duration of programs will vary, but most students choose to attend a program at the master's level. For admission to a master's level program, almost every school requires at least two years of undergraduate study. Others require a bachelor's degree in a related field, such as science, nursing, or premed. Most Oriental medicine programs provide a thorough education in Western sciences as well as Chinese herbology, acupuncture techniques, and all aspects of traditional Oriental medicine.

Choosing a school for Oriental medicine can be a complex task. An important consideration is where you want to live and practice. State requirements to practice Oriental medicine vary greatly, so be sure to choose a school that will prepare you to practice in your desired location.

If you plan to apply for federal financial assistance, look for a college accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (https://www.acaom.org) because these programs are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Oriental bodywork therapy is not taught as a separate discipline in schools of Oriental medicine. To become an Oriental bodywork therapist, you must first meet the requirements of your state to become a massage therapist. Most massage therapy schools require a high school diploma for entrance. Postsecondary or previous study of science, psychology, and business can be helpful. Some schools require a personal interview. Accredited massage schools generally offer a minimum of 500 hours of training, which includes the study of anatomy, physiology, kinesiology (the study of human movement), ethics, and business practices. In addition, the school should provide courses in the theory and practice of massage therapy and supervised hands-on training. 

Once you complete a program in general massage therapy, you can specialize in Oriental bodywork. Some massage schools offer courses in Oriental bodywork. A specialty in Oriental bodywork requires 150 to 500 hours of additional training. The American Organization for Bodywork Therapies of Asia (AOBTA) can supply you with information about schools that offer training.

Certification, Licensing, and Special Requirements

Certification or Licensing

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) promotes nationally recognized standards for acupuncture and Oriental medicine. In order to qualify to take the NCCAOM exam, students must complete a three- or four-year accredited master's level or candidate program. Four designations are available: diplomate in oriental medicine, diplomate in acupuncture, diplomate in Chinese herbology, and diplomate in Asian bodywork therapy.

Licensing requirements vary widely from state to state, and they are changing rapidly. Most states use the NCCAOM certification as their standard for licensure. Other states seek certification and additional educational requirements. Check with the licensing board of the state in which you intend to practice.

Individual states regulate Oriental bodywork practitioners as they do general massage therapists. As of 2020, 46 states and the District of Columbia regulated the practice of acupuncture and Oriental medicine, requiring licensure, certification, or registration. They generally require completion of a 500-hour program and the National Certification Exam for Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork. The American Massage Therapy Association can give you information regarding the laws of your state. If your state does not have licensing requirements, check with your county or municipality for regulations governing massage therapy.

Other Requirements

Some positions may require candidates to pass a background check.

Experience, Skills, and Personality Traits

Requirements for oriental medicine practitioners vary widely if the practitioner specializes in acupuncture, herbology, massage, or bodywork. A massage therapist may practice with only some postsecondary non-degree training. Most programs that train Oriental Medicine Practitioners require an associate's or bachelor's degree, preferably in science or premed, plus three years additional training in acupuncture or four years for Oriental medicine. 

Acupuncturists need sensitive hands and keen vision. Oriental bodywork and massage practitioners need strong hands and physical stamina. No matter what their specialty, oriental medicine practitioners must be comfortable working closely with the human body. Conversely, patients will feel more at ease when the practitioner is calm and friendly. Practitioners work with people who may be ill or in pain, so they need to be compassionate and understanding. Listening skills, strong intuition, careful observation, and problem-solving skills are also valuable.

Oriental medicine is a science of understanding energetics in the body, and it is a healing art. Whether you pursue a career as an Oriental bodywork therapist or as an acupuncturist, you need to be successful at understanding and learning this unique approach to health care.