In Iowa, a law was passed in March of 1996 which made it legal for acupuncturists to practice independently in our state, under the title Registered Acupuncturists (R.Ac.) In 1999 this was changed to allow acupuncturists to see patients without a referral from a physician. This elevated acupuncturists to the status of primary provider, and allowed the licensing of practitioners. They are referred to as Licensed Acupuncturists (L.Ac.). Licensed Acupuncturists in Iowa, as in most states, must pass national board exams, as explained below.
The state law in Iowa states that doctors of medicine, osteopathy, chiropractic, dentistry and podiatry may also practice acupuncture under their licenses. No specific guidelines are given in the Iowa code for the amount of training required for these doctors to begin working on patients with acupuncture needles. So, theoretically any physician wishing to add acupuncture to his tool kit may begin doing acupuncture with no training at all.
The chiropractic board in Iowa has stated that D.C.s must have at least 200 hours of direct training before adding acupuncture to their work with patients. We believe this is still inadequate training to provide the best care for patients. The American Association of Oriental Medicine recommends that all health care providers who are not professional acupuncturists have at least 800 hours of training in acupuncture to be qualified.
Licensed Acupuncturist Training and Qualification Standards
Professional acupuncturists in the US are trained extensively in Traditional Chinese Medicine and related modalities. Their training allows them to take the challenging national board examinations given by the National Committee for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). A practitioner who has passed this board exam will have the credentials Dipl.Ac.(NCCAOM) after their name. This indicates that they are a Diplomate of Acupuncture of the NCCAOM. In order to be allowed to take this exam, one must be a graduate of an accredited acupuncture school (2000 to 3500 hours of training or equivalent experience).
Acupuncture Schools in the US
Accredited acupuncture schools in America presently have programs of 3 to 5 years at a graduate level, involving 3000 to 4000 hours of training in theory and clinical practice. Admission to acupuncture school requires completion of college level courses in chemistry, biology, anatomy, physiology, pathology, microbiology, psychology, and others which are most often found in the pre-medicine curriculum of most colleges.
During their training, acupuncture students are taught oriental medicine theory, oriental differential diagnosis, tongue and pulse diagnosis, treatment planning, herbal theory and practice, locations and functions of the points, needle technique, sterile and safe needle procedures, office management, ethics, basic counseling skills, statistics and research, and oriental massage. They also study the use of other modalities commonly used by acupuncturists, such as laser acupuncture, electrical stimulation, gwa sha, cupping – just to name a few. They are trained in standard medical procedures as well, including pulse and blood pressure measurement, CPR, emergency management, and more.
What to Look for In Choosing an Acupuncturist
Ask your acupuncturist about their training and credentials. Iowa law requires that all patients be given a copy of the practitioner’s qualifications before treatment may commence. Ask if they have passed the national board exams in acupuncture. A chiropractor or medical doctor who uses acupuncture has most likely had far less training than a licensed acupuncturist. Be aware that the word “certified” is not a standardized term; many people say that they are certified in acupuncture. This could mean anything.
The National Board Exams given by the NCCAOM (National Committee for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) are the highest level of certification in the US and are used as the acupuncture licensing board exam by most states. Passing these exams leads to the designation Diplomate of Acupuncture, Diplomate of Chinese Herbology, Diplomate of Oriental Bodywork, or Diplomate of Oriental Medicine. Very few chiropractors or MD acupuncturists take and pass these exams.
Iowa law states that a medical doctor, dentist, chiropractor or osteopathic doctor can perform acupuncture without any training. However, Iowa law requires licensed acupuncturists to have taken and passed at least the Diplomate of Acupuncture exam given by the NCCAOM.
The Reason for Our Concern
We are interested in helping people in Iowa find qualified and effective care with acupuncture. Practitioners with less than the highest and nationally standardized levels of training may not help patients, practice safely, or demonstrate the standards of care of licensed acupuncturists. This keeps future patients from having access to the care they need from acupuncture. We also hope to protect and enhance the profession and the practice of acupuncture in our state and the US at large.