Don’t go to Acupuncture School

Editor's note: This blog was originally posted in 2011. If you are here because you're doing research about acupuncture school, we encourage you to check out the POCA Tech FAQ for more recent information about the process of becoming an acupuncturist, what acupuncturists earn, and questions to ask yourself before you apply to acupuncture school.

I’ve become stubbornly passionate about sharing my acupuncture school experience and early practitioner journey with prospective acupuncture students.In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that I'm not making a dime off any of this nor do I ever expect to.I'm speaking out because few people in the acupuncture profession will actually pony up the information and certainly not the AOM schools.Straight up, the numbers thrown around by the schools and the profession just didn’t match up the longer I spent in school.Why were so many graduates TAing, in no hurry to finish their board exams, ‘slowly’ building their practice, maintaining part-time jobs outside the profession, leaving the profession for other jobs, or never practicing at all?Really, at all?Yep…..not at all.Each year that I was in school, I was afforded the time to get to know fellow acupuncture students who were entering the acupuncture profession.I’ve somehow kept up with a vast number of people who graduated from OCOM and other AOM schools.The reality of AOM student loan debt in relation to actual AOM income is completely out of balance.It was even presented by the NCCAOM at the American Public Health Association conference as early as the fall of 2008.

When I started to write this blog, I couldn’t get the 3 D’s out of my head: Divorce, Default & Death.I know it sounds dramatic, but unfortunately they are some of the less appealing student loan repayment options that are on the table.I’ll get to divorce below.Death needs no explanation.Default, while financially irresponsible, might not be so bad.Well except for the fact that you could be stripped of your professional licensure. The reason for the student loan debt in the first place.If you are considering attending acupuncture school and need to take out student loans to finance your education, these options could be yours one day too.Think I’m joking when I say ‘don’t go to acupuncture school’?Unfortunately, I’m not.Not following me?For some background see this CAN guest blog post from last year.If you haven’t read it, you really should….you’ll enjoy part deux so much more!

In the time since I wrote that blog, I’ve been working almost solely as an acupuncturist (seasonally I work a few hours per week as a ski & snowboard instructor).In order to keep first year business expenses down, I made the conscious decision to not open a brick and mortar clinic.Instead, I’ve built a growing mobile acupuncture practice and worked part-time at WCA.The key here is no additional debt burden.This scenario has also allowed me to really focus on the clinical side of patient care instead of being distracted by trying to run a full time acupuncture business, take out a small business loan with an upside down income to debt ratio or worry if I’d have enough money in the bank for office and related business expenses.Don’t forget, actually having enough real money (after taxes) to pay myself a monthly salary to pay my monthly student loan payment.

Now let’s visit tax time 2011.It marked the first full year of being an acupuncturist.Since 2002 or 2003, this is what I wanted to be.It was a milestone.Historically, I wrap up my taxes by Valentine’s Day.I’ve never had a tax balance due.I’ve always received an annual refund of some sort.This has been happening since I could file a tax return when I was in high school.This year was different.I really dragged my feet.I’d been crunching some numbers and staying up on the options of managing my staggering AOM student loan debt otherwise known as my acupuncture mortgage.I had a plan and a backup plan.If you know me, you know I even had a backup backup plan.None of it panned out.Not the plan (A), the backup plan (B) or the backup backup plan (C).
Plan A – File ‘married’, break even or get around a $1,000 in a return.This plan granted us the smallest return ever, just over $1,000, but no complaints.Future consequences of this choice are significant and pretty financially crippling as my husband’s income would be included in the pool of available money to calculate my monthly student loan payments.The reality is that his income bears the most weight to keep the roof over heads, keep us fed with health insurance, etc.With this choice, I estimate that I’ll likely owe around $400 per month in a student loan payment or just under $5,000 annually.OK, doable with both of us working while slowly chipping away at the acupuncture mortgage.

Plan B – File ‘married separate’, break even or owe between $500-$1,000 in additional taxes.I worked to keep my first business expenses under control and put away a couple thousand dollars in anticipation of this possibility.As touted by the IBR options, filing taxes under this status would afford me a more realistic repayment plan and take into account the income actually obtained by working as an acupuncturist.With this choice, I estimate that I’ll likely owe under $200 per month for 25 years.While not desirable, very appropriate in relation to the income derived from my acupuncture practices (i.e. actually treating patients, not TAing, selling acupuncture needles, waiting tables, etc.) and achievable while not putting my family in a financial hard place.What actually happened was that filing ‘married separate’ would have cost my family $3,500 on top of the taxes that were already due and accounted for with the normal filing process.This scenario would continue annually.Not very appealing and not working to reduce the balance of my acupuncture mortgage.

Plan C – Divorce.Really?Has it honestly come down to putting this card on the table?Actually, yes.When you crunch the numbers, this option makes the most financial sense on paper.Crazy thing is, before I even started classes at OCOM, I specifically asked the Financial Aid administrator for historical information regarding the FAFSA results for other married students in the program.I was told quote “getting married is not a negative. It usually helps with many other aspects of being a student”. When I visited with the Financial Aid administrator in person and asked for possible breaking points in income levels that I needed to consider, the message was an almost sound bite similar.What I’m trying to let other potential AOM students know is that much like them, I did my homework, asked very pointed questions, weighed pros & cons before matriculating and looking back it was more like being in a used car lot (sorry car dealers).I didn’t need to get married to validate my relationship.What I did need was some solid advice from the people who are supposed to have a handle on this information for prospective students.If there were consequences that I should take under consideration, I was prepared to make the best decision possible for the sake of our finances and cost of my AOM education.

Now what?I’m on to Plan D by now.Ironic isn’t it, Plan D and the 3 D’s.I’m in the process of moving my loans out of ‘deferment’ status and completing the formal transition into the Income Based Repayment (IBR) plan.This is the best option available to me before divorce, default or death to remain in the acupuncture profession.OK, no worries, the IBR payments will be reasonable, right?Guess again.How does approximately $700 per month in a student loan payment sound to you?The $700 per month is not on the standard 10 year repayment plan either.It is for at least 17 years if I can keep up with these monthly payments.Are you kidding me?This is half of our monthly mortgage payment and more than twice as much as our monthly food budget.Around $8,500 per year in student loan payments for 17 years or about $144,000 total!The impact of this is huge.All of this for an AOM education at a school that holds no career fair for their interns.For a profession that has no officially recognized BLS workforce data let alone jobs for their graduates to move into.So prospective students, does this idea still sound appealing to you?Please see the writing on the wall and don’t go to acupuncture school if you need to finance your AOM education on student loans!There is sufficient evidence out there now to support the fact that an AOM education is a bad return on your investment.

As you are reading this, you may be thinking, how could this be?Let’s see the data, the numbers (props to acupunkgirl) based on our real life family of two who own a small home, have chosen to be child free, have a single car payment, commute by bike and/or take public transportation (unless time or safety dictate otherwise), are pretty handy and don’t pay full retail for the majority of discretionary purchases.All in all, we do pretty well with what we have, plan and save for what we want, or do without things we really don’t need.Our numbers look like this:

$70,000 = AGI. This is our combined adjusted gross income.If you don’t know what this is you might want to get a handle on it before if you think you want to go to acupuncture school.It’s what the IBR payments are based from.It’s not exactly real money that you get to fully touch and hold.

$50,000 = Actual take home pay.This is real money that goes in our bank accounts after state & federal taxes, health insurance, retirement, etc are subtracted from the $70,000.

The $50,000 of real money needs to pay for the following annual expenses:

$25,000 = Mortgage, properties taxes, home owners insurance, mortgage insurance and all utilities.If we were renting we could reduce this to around $18,000 per year at best unless we lived in a box.Let’s be realistic here.

$15,000 = Food, auto insurance, car payment, gas, health insurance co-pays, anticipated misc expenses, etc.

$5,000 = Savings.This is way less than we should be saving, but probably on par or better than most people today.

From the $50,000 of real money, the above normal and expected annual expenses leave us approximately a $5,000 cushion fund.As most people know, especially home owners, this isn’t just free money lying around.Things come up over the year that we like to try not to tap into our savings for.Normal but not always expected house fixes, vet bills, short cheap sanity weekends away all eat away at this buffer pretty quickly.So the fact that my acupuncture mortgage monthly payment is becoming $700 per month in the near future is quiet daunting.That’s about $3,500 more than what we have left in our remaining $5,000 cushion each year.Essentially draining our buffer finances, our responsible safety net, and putting us in a poor position should any quantifiable expenses come up.Not just for a few months or even a couple years until we work through it and quickly clear the debt, but for at least 17 years. But who I am to assume prospective acupuncture students ever want to own homes or any financial security.  No, that would be crazy….about as crazy an idea as plunking down $100,000 in student loans to go to acupuncture school.

I have to wonder when the last time an AOM school administrator sat down and looked at the IBR chart, let alone any student loan repayment options, and calculated what their expected payment would be if they had $100,000 in student loan debt?How would this impact their own family and for how many decades? Would they advise their own child to go to acupuncture school? Could they honestly tell prospective acupuncture students that financing an AOM education on student loans is even worth considering?Hopefully not and especially not if they need to resort to the spiel that they are investing in their future by investing in themselves!I can think of an endless list of ways to invest in yourself that don’t ever involve going to acupuncture school and graduating with an acupuncture mortgage of their very own with little chance of finding a real paying job in the profession.Let’s start with #1) invest in yourself by NOT going to acupuncture school unless you have $100,000 in the bank right now.

So now what?Well, obviously the current cost of the AOM education can’t continue along its historical path.It is completely unsustainable for everyone but the acupuncture schools.It’s unsustainable for the students, for the patients, and even for the tax payers down the road.Think housing bubble here.I really don’t mean to break prospective acupuncture student hearts with actual numbers, information and experiences but these details need to be shared openly and honestly if we are ever going to grow as a profession.We have to work to change this.We need to work to make sure the education is accessible and affordable to a wide range of prospective students from a wide range of backgrounds who can become licensed acupuncturists and serve their communities by providing accessible and affordable acupuncture.We’ve got some elemental work to do. OK, who’s in?

Author: Shauna

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The theme for this conference is “Breaking Barriers”. You know, there are so many barriers to break in acupuncture that it was really hard to choose which ones to talk about for this speech. But since I’ve spent so much time talking about classism as a barrier, I thought it might be fun to shift gears a little and talk about numbers.


  1. wink and a nod

    acupuncture schools claim that they give full disclosure to the students regarding debt borrowing ( in compliance with the dept of Education rules) and that it is the student’s fault, er, responsibilty to know the consequences of borrowing ( caveat emptor ).  but then hey, can’t put a pricetag on a dream now , can ya?

    i count myself extremly lucky.  i almost sucked myself into the ABYSS originally wanting to borrow 90,000+ for school and living ( for 3.5 years) wanting to pursue my dream.  Instead, I was luckily diverted to a different school without federal loans and into a path where i worked full time for the first two years of school and only came out with maybe 25-30K in school/living debt by the end because I needed to just focus on school the last year.

  2. Good Point

    It might be helpful for prospective students to know what schools commenters attended and for what years. I started OCOM the fall 2005 and graduated fall 2009. The standard OCOM 4 year curriculum in 4 actual calendar years.

  3. what?

    As you were borrowing all this money for acupuncture school, what were you thinking was going to happen when you got out?

    I’m just curious, beause most people, I suspect, borrow/spend now without even remotely considering the consequences down the road. I don’t think it matters what kind of education you’re talking about. Largely in America people are financially illiterate.

    This is stuff that should be taught in high schools.

  4. My thoughts exactly

    It’s no secret that the age of personal responsibility has disappeared along with so many other adult behaviours. I know I sound a bit like one of these old guys who walked uphill both ways to school every day, but there has to be a change in attitude at some point.

    When I did my schooling we were in class for about 30 hours per week. After school I worked a part time job, again about 30 hours per week. I took student loans as well and still work hard to pay them, along with my many other debts down. I knew what I was getting into when I started this mess and every decision along the way was mine; along with the ultimate responsibility.

    Student loans, along with the rest of the debt, is a powerful motivator. To provide for my family, I know exactly how hard I have to work just to provide the basics. If I want more, then I have to work for it. 

    I would never tell anyone not to go to acupuncture school, but I would tell them to at least look at their situation first. For the same reason, I would never tell anyone not to buy a house, I’d just tell them to see if they could afford it before getting into a bad situation.

    Our generation has looked at the one ahead of us and we’ve seen where their hard work has gotten them. Unfortunately though, we seem to ignore the hard work that got them there. We have this attitude of entitlement that we can have the cake and eat it, but without cooking it first. We can’t just whine about it, we have to work for it.

    Again, I’m sounding like some preachy grandpa, but it’s just my attitude to work for something. Maybe having lived in poverty most of my life taught me that basic lesson of how hard I have to work if I see something I want. Don’t let debt get you down, let it inspire and push you.

    At least there is some hope though for future students, they were talking a bit about this at the CAN conference. They want to make a better education system for acupuncture. If it works, then it works and we’ve got more people coming into the profession already guided into the CA model a bit. It sounds like it’s a ways off, but at least change is being worked on.

  5. isnt it ironic that I

    isnt it ironic that I considered myself lucky to end up with 69k in loan debt when I graduated because the first year I only took the min loan instead of the max. if I would have done my homework, I would have just done the certificate and skipped herbs of which I learned very little of in class and would have opted out of the increase loan the last year from 18.5k to 20.5k, but being in school and in debt already I thought why not? especially since my class was the largest mcom had ever seen (we started with 60) our second semester tuition raised and the quality of education decreased each semester, its a good thing I know how to read 🙂 and that I ended school with no other debt except for my acu mortgage so that I have been able to make my $500/month payments until they increase to $800/month for the remainder of the 25 year loan. my favorite part, when I graduated everyone was talking about how we’d all just consolidate our loans as if that would really change much. but in 2008 that was no longer an option and half of my loans intrest rate is around 8%. When my young massage students ask about entering into acupuncture school as if its a logical step (and it could be! massage can lay a great foundation for palpation and needle skills) I tell them to think long and hard about the debt they will aquire and what jobs are available. its really all a shame.  

  6. right

    So is it an issue of personal responsibility, or one of social responsibility (e.g. should be taught in high schools)?  Or some combination?  And what about the responsibility of the folks who are running these schools?

  7. Wally

    Knowing this blogger and also knowing you and your wife, I would put this blogger’s financial acumen much closer to your wife;’s than yours: i.e. very high. This blogger had things very carefully mapped out before she went to acu-school; she is now trying to make ends meet while staying in the field.  She can always get out and get a higher paying job as many companies would find her quite an asset. In fact I would say that not 1 in 500 acu-students have looked into their finances and is a careful about the same as this blogger.  As such I say your comment while often true hits wide of the mark here. 

  8. So glad you bring this up!

    In an effort to feed your curiosity & more background about my methodology of managing my finances through acu school, please refer to the Dollars & Sense blog This information should help answer some of your completely appropriate questions/concerns.  Check out the spreadsheet about mid body.  I’m not an earn & burn type with money (credit to my mom a good upbringing).  Our AGI while I was in school was less, but expenses weren’t much different.  So there was no extra money to pay for tution outright.

    Over the course of school, I worked 3 part-time jobs.  Sometimes in the same week, but no more than 25 hours in a week.  I learned the hard way that running 50-60 hours ‘work weeks’ was bad for my brain and health while trying to stay up on my acu school work.  I even saved enough for all my boards and licensing so I didn’t have to borrow more money for this part of the cost of becoming an acupuncturist.

    The only other option for me was to NOT go to acupuncture school.  The message the schools communicate to people is that the debt taken on could easily repayed over time (but since the cooking schools got slapped, they are being a bit more cautious with their published words).  Now we know, per the NCCAOM Job Task Analysis, that 70% of acupuncturist gross less than $60,000 year.  So once you take out taxes that’s taking home between $30,000-40,000.  What that means is that prospective acupuncture students should be taking out no more this for their entire program in student loans (tuition, all related education costs and living expeses). Hard to do when I was in school.  Near impossible with the current options out there.

    I’m certainly not baring my financial sole because I have nothing better to do.  I do think that those of us that are in the profession have a responsibility to speak up, create solutions and keep our growing community clinics open so we don’t find ourselves leaving our awsomely loyal patient base out in the cold all due to a disproportionaly unbalanced cost of education.

    Again…good questions 😉

    *Thanks for the backup Skip!

  9. Preachy Grandpa?

    No, don’t censor yourself Clayton.  There’s lots of people in our generation that need one every now and then 😉

    On the topic of buying of a house.  This is a great example, but keep in mind you can always sell it if you can’t afford it.  You can’t sell your acupuncture mortgage though.  It stays with you forever.  Bankruptcy can’t even help it.  When we bought our house, the lenders kept telling us that we could afford a $425K mortgage.  We thought this was craziness!  We knew that we needed to always be able to live on 1 income if we ever found ourselves in this situation.  We bought based on those terms, not what our credit rating dictated.

    It is hard for me to straight up tell people not to go to acupuncture school.  This medicine is wonderful & I’ve seen so much relief from it.  But when asked for feedback, I refuse to gloss it all up.  People are going to make up the own minds at the end of the day and, if they decide to go, are a little more informed about the reality of it all.

    Keep up the good dialogue!

  10. Irony Indeed!

    Like you, I consided myself lucky to graduate with $93,000 in Stafford (sub & unsub) Loans only.  It’s the interest that has accrued at 6.8% (the going rate) over the past year and a half that has pushed the total indebtedness above $100,000 in the past few weeks.

    Like your class, my graduating class was the largest OCOM has ever had (n=82).  The past two years of intern groups are down by 20-30 students.

    When the Stafford Loan annual maximums were raised from $18,500 to $20,500, our tuition jump almost exactly $2,000 that year.

    In a backward way, I do consider myself lucky because I know I’ve got a plan to pay off this debt as quickly as possible now that the IBR isn’t really an economical solution.  Even luckier that my husband is on board with my idea too.  I, of course, own this debt in all possible meanings, but if I were ever to default, a lien could be placed on our home. 

    Thanks for sharing Sarah.  Know that there are other prospective acu students out there taking note of our willingness to share details like this.

  11. Formerly Deluded

    I too, have ambivalent feelings about my acupuncture education
    and how I feel about people prospectively becoming students themselves..
    I’m in my 11th year of practice since graduating school, and somehow,
    I’ve managed to get by on what I’ve made as an acupuncturist working for
    myself.  I think that puts me in the “successful” category of
    acupuncturists.  Which is laughable.  I’ve done it by maintaining my
    student’s perspective on quality of life and expectations of what I
    should be able to afford.  For years I’ve made (and sometimes deferred and sometimes struggled to make) minimum monthly payments on my student loans.  I’ve had my community acupuncture clinic for 2
    years now.. which is beginning to offer me a reliable and steady
    income-still looking to gross less than 50,000 this year (which is
    personal income, not my business’ gross) Pretty good.  In the last
    couple of years though, I also started a family.  Do prospective
    students think about this when agreeing to take on massive debt?  Do
    they think about trying to buy a home on top of starting a practice on
    top of their debt?  Do they think about having children and childcare
    and paying for thier college on top of a home and their acupuncture school debt? 

    I’m lucky to have a very supportive partner, willing to forgo or hopefully only postpone his own
    dream of starting a business, and willing to support our family for the
    large part while I try to decrease “OUR” debt now so that someday we can
    be free of it.. Do people think about trying to have this semblance of a
    normal life when getting excited about loan forgiveness after not being
    able to make more than a tiny loan payment for years?  Just another
    reality check for any soon to be students to consider!

  12. I’m confused about why

    I’m confused about why divorce would be a better option than married filing separately.  If you were single wouldn’t you be in the same financial place as filing separately.  I have actually chosen not to get married to keep my loan payments reasonable, but I thought with the IBR I might consider it because I could file separately.  Would you choose not to get married if you weren’t already?  

    I have 15 years left until my loan is forgiven, that’s a long time.  Marriage is not something I care much about, but not getting married because of a student loan just makes me hate this county, and our messed up system of people getting rich above all, on everything, including health care and education which shouldn’t be ruled by greed.  

  13. IBR & the married filing separate ‘loophole’

    Makes sense that you are confused.  It really took me until tax time to see how all the pieces of this puzzle worked together.  While it’s true that my individual income does not change if I’m married or single (divorced), it is treated differently in the eyes of the government.  See Plan B above and the additional $3,500 tax tab I would have had to pay by filing ‘married separate’.  If nothing changed in our income or tax codes over the course of the 25 year IBR repayment term, I would pay out $87,500 (25 yrs x $3,500) to the federal govenment by using the married filing single method.  This would be an annually occurring tax tab all in an effort to make my student loan payments reasonable and reflect income earned an acupuncturist.  This amount of money should be going to pay down the acupuncture mortgage not towards an additional annual tax burden.  Don’t forget that 25 years from now when the IBR you’re enrolled in may be forgiven, the remaining balance is counted as income and you may be taxed on it.

    Unfortunately, my acupuncture mortgage situation is not unique.  The 82 students who graduated from OCOM in the fall of 2009 had an average student loan debt of $88,545. There are lots of silent AOM grads out there today!

    This is why I wrote this blog.  The ‘options’ for student loan payments aren’t so appealing at every turn of the corner.  The underlying issue for any prospective acupuncture student is….how are they going to pay for this over priced education?  The cost of the AOM education is astronomically disproportionate when compared to the average gross income of the majority of acupuncturists.  The NCCAOM Job Task Analysis confirmed what so many people already knew.  I’d rather be a part of an open and honest dialogue working to create solutions than continue to watch prospective students struggle with no other choices.  When in fact, there are other existing routes to licensure that can be mobilized.

  14. Dig

    I hear you Skipper…not trying to single Shauna out when it comes to financial acumen. I really do wonder what folks are thinking though as they go down this road….not that it makes the situation any less of a mess. In my case, I honestly wasn’t crunching the numbers. I just that the alternative (riding around in a van, playing in bars and honky tonks wasn’t gonna do it for me.) So to some extent, while the price was high, it was the price of my own freedom. Likwise, AOMA didn’t mislead me into thinking I was going to hit the jackpot doing this. I think their info states that their graduates on average make about 45K. It’s interesting too that it seems most of the folks I went to school with are seemingly doing fine. Some definitely not, but to some extent that’s going to be the case with any program.

    Doesn’t change the fact it’s a big mess. You can spend 45K and get PT doctorate – a career path with 100% employment. You can spend 5K and become a nurseor a PT assistant.

    What’s messed up is that the acu degrees really are to the point of being doctorates, but they are doctorates with pretty much 0 employment opportunity. Hard to justify, no doubt. 

    Excited to see how your stuff plays out with community college there. 

  15. So if you filed single would

    So if you both filed single would you be paying less in taxes as a couple than married filing separately?  My question really is, should I avoid marriage, or would it actually help me spend less once I figured in taxes?  I read something that if one is married file separate they cannot get the student loan interest deduction, are there other issues like that which make it more cost effective to remain single than married. I’m actually quite educated on student loans as we all should be, I just don’t know much about marriage which I will have to work on before I do anything about it.

    BTW, they are many people fighting for student loan reform, and removing the tax at loan forgiveness time has support in Washington, it’s one of the easier issues, we just need more people with loans to speak up, that and other changes can be made to make life easier for those who borrowed to pay for education.  Obviously, there are problems like this marriage penalty that need to be addressed.  Everyone, your loans affect your life, stay informed and speak up for change!

    Here is just one of many websites that discuss student loan issues, we shouldn’t just pay every month, and complain, but then ignore what’s going on, this affects all students not just acupuncture students. 

    Project on Student Debt: Home 

  16. My partner and I are not yet married

    … so this question is really interesting to me too- are you talking only about people doing income sensitive payments, or does being married effect the amount of interest you write off or anything if you’re not on that plan?


  17. To clarify, what I read said

    To clarify, what I read said it affected the ability to get the interest deduction only if married filing separately, if filing jointly there was apparently no problem.  I don’t know if it was only for the IBR plans, or people paying on other plans.  I can’t remember where I read it.

  18. I went to AIMS (Asian

    I went to AIMS (Asian Institute) in Tucson.  Since my time ( ~ 36K for MAc program) , their prices have increased, but are still low compared to the biggies.  I’m working on gathering all the schools estimated costs together in one place and will post when complete.  AIMS now etimates MAc only to be 41,345 + books and some other expenses, so somewhere around 45K give or take for a 3 year program if you count books and other stuff.  Adding herbs increases the price as at other schools.  Jung Tao runs a 4 year program at under 40K ( acc to their website). still working on the rest.

  19. which schools are worst?

    Shauna is co-author on a paper that is set to be published in the American Acupunturist in June. This is a seminal publication that reviews workforce survey outcomes from LAcs. This is the FIRST such review of practicing LAc workforce outcomes. I have to pause to consider why there has NEVER been a workforce survey for licensed acupuncturists?

    The truth about AOM student loan debt is bleak. Our findings suggest it is getting worse. This is not a secret among private for-profit schools in general. In fact, the growing failure of students ability to pay off their huge loans who attend such schools is a national focus.

    While the national focus is on the University of Phoenix, Kaplan Schools and ITT the  fact is many AOM programs fall in the same group.

    If workforce data were transparent (you could see it right away like when you visited the campus financial advosor!) you would see that ~40% of LAcs earn $20K or less and half of all LAcs earn less than $50K. Why aren’t LAc workforce data transparent? The NCCAOM has the data but will not release it. Ask Kory Ward-Cook NCCAOM President why she will not release average incomes in each percentile.

    This is why I support the CAN now POCA models. They provide the best hope for an LAc to earn a living wage. Plain and simple. What you learned in AOM school gives you at best the same odds as a flip of the coin to earn a living. 3 years and$80K later.

    The initiative to locate a training program in a communty college is absolutely the right move. However, it will very likely moving training in the direction of mainstream medicine or primary care. Practically speaking for some this means giving up the cult for paid employment. For others it means doing a better job for your patients in a POCA clinic. And that ain’t bad. Either way, you’ll have a better shot at working in your profession than if you followed in the footsteps of the LAcs who hold onto a dream sold by PT Barnum.

  20. thanks for the post shauna.

    thanks for the post shauna. I was contemplating acupuncture school but have decided to postpone because I really can’t see myself with 175k in debt with no job (combined $ with my undergrad degree) I am so frustrated because this is my dream but the cost of ruining my future is too great.
    Thank you for being honest about this the schools certainly are not!
    I am wondering why you have not hired a lawyer or considered a class action lawsuit?
    This seems too ridiculous to be true!

  21. Filing Single

    Yes, if we both filed ‘single’ it would be better on the tax burden as well as my monthly student loan payments.  By doing this, only my income would be used to calculate my monthly student loan payments in the IBR ($200 or less) without the ‘married filing single’ penalty of $3,500.  However, at this rate, I will never pay it off.  Not the plan or the desire when I entered acupuncture school.  The govenrment should have essentially paid outright for my acupuncture education….it would have been cheaper in the long run before capitalizing interest.

    My husband, who would not be my ‘husband’ as he would remain single, would have a bit of higher tax burden since he makes a higher annual salary.  However (and this is key), he could lower his taxable income by increasing his pretax contribution to his retirement and lower his AGI.  Why not just do this now and skip the thought of getting a divorce?  Because the $700 monthly student loan payment makes doing this as a married couple impossible.  First the additional $3,500 tax on top of regular annual taxes and then try to lower his take home pay.  That just won’t work unless we can come up with an extra $10,000 per year.  If we could, all of this would be a non issue.  We need to be a couple earning between $80,000-90,000 annually to pay off my student loan debt in 10 years of less. 

    This is why I say don’t go to acupuncture school…unless you have $100,000 in the bank right now.

    Linda, I’m glad you are talking about the student loan reform meaures out there.  I have been keeping tabs on things for years.  It’s a good idea for people to get involved or nothing will really ever change.

  22. Student Loan Interest

    The maximum annual student loan interest deduction is $2,500.  I thought about as one way to lower our AGI because if I was in the IBR, I would essentially be paying all interest at first.  So, if I was paying $8,500 in student loan interest, can’t I take it as an annual deduction on my taxes?  Makes sense since the payments get spread out over 25 years.  Just like the wonderful idea of interest only home loans….we all know where that got the housing market.

    But nope, the max deduction you get annually is $2,500 regardless of how much is paid.

    Not sure what to tell you on the idea of getting married.  Tread lightly if you have student loans and make the best decision for you & your partner.  But since you are asking…..from my experience, I would not advise it.  There seems to be little financial gain while trying to pay down student loan debt.  Find a good financial advisor who might be able to really break things down for you.

  23. Is that really the current

    Is that really the current cost?  Wow, I had not realized how much the cost has risen.  I graduated 10 years ago with around 70K in debt, and I did borrow money for living expenses as well as tuition, I usually borrowed the max.  

  24. I totally understand what

    I totally understand what you guys are saying, you make a lot of great points, but I don’t feel as intensely about no one going to OM school ever. I will say I’m basing this on people being well informed and graduating 60-80K in debt, not 175K, that’s way too much!  When someone mentions going to acupuncture school, I’m certainly not gung ho, I recommend very serious consideration, and I lay out the intense, and scary realities for them.  That said, the truth is I graduated 70Kish in debt, but I would do it again, I just would have worked more, and took more time so my debt would be somewhat lower, I didn’t have to borrow that much, I had other options that I should have taken, I can’t blame the schools for that, my school actually recommended borrowing less.  I knew there were no jobs or guarantees in this profession, I was willing to take that chance.  I would say the schools were not anywhere near as forthcoming with information as they should be, but I did my own research, students do have to take some responsibility.

    I always planned to go on the ICR plan, and pay over 25 years, and I knew I would not have children which would leave me in a much better financial place than many people.  I didn’t expect to have personal tragedies that cause my loan to grow so much, that’s another thing for potential students to consider, but I would still go to school even knowing that happened.  Holistic medicine and especially acupuncture are what I love to do, I’m very glad I am able to do it so I don’t see it as only a negative.

    So many people have large student loans compared to their income, some of them are in higher paying professions, but many are not, like art school, culinary, and even high priced private colleges when students choose impractical majors.  This isn’t confined to acupuncture schools, the whole student loan system is a problem, and it’s leading to increasing college costs.  

    We have a  whole generation of people who will lack the financial ability to contribute to our economy, so much of their money will be going to the banks.  This is a growing problem that could have serious consequences for our future as a country.  We need to reform the loan system, and bring down college costs.  This will help change acupuncture schools skyrocketing costs as well.  Overall, I think student loans are a good thing, but they need quite a bit of reform, and we need more grants so the loans aren’t as high.

    When I plugged in 70K AGI for a family of two and 100K loan, my calculator said $600ish/mo, maybe my calc is wrong, have they officially given you a $700/mo bill?   

  25. Just out of curiosity, does

    Just out of curiosity, does anyone know if OM/AC school enrollment has increased, or decreased over time?

    I’m also wondering what the average tuition is, just tuition and fees, not living expenses.  I think it was somewhere around 30-35K when I went school 10 years ago.

  26. well, if you spend 35-45 for

    well, if you spend 35-45 for a 4 year undergrad BS degree than 125 for 4 year acupuncture school. it makes sense why everyone is angry, i say sue them!

  27. I went the CC to state

    I went the CC to state school while working route so I never had any undergrad loans.  Sue who?  The schools?  I have heard of Chiropractors suing, or somehow complaining about their student loans saying they shouldn’t owe them, because of dishonesty or something, but I don’t know what’s involved in that.

    I think it’s definitely time to demand honesty of our profession, for too long I think people have been embarrassed by their failures and afraid to speak up. Everyone needs to know that acupuncturists are FAILING, schools, and other agencies have an obligation to address this issue.  

  28. Prior to July 1, 2006….

    the interest rates on Stafford Loans for graduate studies were more reasonable.  As of July 1, 2006, the interest rates became 6.8% fixed. I have a small loan from my first year that is at an interest rate of 2.47% and I am not willing to consolidate it and bring the interest rate on it up to a higher lever.  So I’m paying on that on separately at $50-75 per month.  Combining the two tabs & mailing them to two different lenders, yes, $700 per month.

  29. There is no way today…..

    to borrow like you did 10 years ago for both tuition and living expenses for 3-4 years of AOM graduate studies and graduate with what your student total student loan debt was back in 2000-2001.

  30. Gathering AOM tuition data is being worked on.

    I started to do some work on it last year as well.  Tuiton has just been climbing and climbing with virtually no change in job prospects.

    Dropping AOM enrollment?  Not sure.  I doubt the schools share any details.  But if you look at page 7 of the latest NCCAOM Annual report you’ll notice that there has been a declining trend in certified diplomates

    Keep the questions coming Linda……we’re educating entire cohorts of prospective acupuncture students with our dialogue!

  31. I see.  I think the

    I see.  I think the interest rates are too high for an education loan, that’s something I’d like to see change.  My rate is 5.6, I feel fortunate for that, although I still get upset because soon after I consolidated the rates went down to around 3%. I know some people have rates in the 8% range, the private loans can be insane 12%, 13% or higher.  What kind of country are we that someone who wants to better themselves, and better our country by becoming educated has to become a slave to a bank for 10-25years?  

  32. overall, i think the tax benefit of filing “married”

    far outweighs “single” or “married filing separately”. Let’s look at tax brackets: For example (i’m making these brackets up), a single person’s tax bracket of say 10% is 15k-25k.  A married tax bracket is 10% 30k-50k. So its double.  If there is an income disparity between the spouses this will really work out in your favor because you will pay less tax overall.  If I’m single and I make 30k, I’m going to pay 10% on 25k and then the next bracket up, say 15% on 5k.  If i’m married and my husband does not work, i’m now only paying 10% on my whole salary of 30k.  Filing separately, you go back to the single tax bracket. 

    You cannot take the student loan interest deduction as “married filing separately”  and the max is $2500. So no double dipping by each of you filing separate and each claiming the same deduction. 

    If you are considering not getting married (or getting divorced) for financial reasons please consult a tax attorney.  (Or call the IRS if you have a question, they are actually friendly and helpful on the phone, just be prepared for a long wait time) It makes me very sad that people are in these situations.  Sad and very angry.  

    Also, I’m sad to report for all of those acupuncturists enjoying upper middle class salaries: the student loan interest deduction is eliminated if you make 75k or more single, 150k married. Boohoo for you!

  33. i paid 35k in sept 03

    same school now costs more than double. and they only post their trimester tuition rates one year out. i guess students find their total debt at the bottom of the cracker jack box, sticky with caramel and smelling like peanuts.

  34. 16k

    16k for an acupuncture diploma. Signed the enrollment contract in 1993, back before acupuncture was legal in Illinois.


    I don’t have the figures, but it seems to me enrollment has been pretty steady over time, and if anything has gone up in the past two years, at least the places i’ve been teaching.

  35. So what I’m hearing is…..

    …it might be beneficial to file ‘married’ if one person make around $30,000 per year and the other person has no income at all?  With this situation, there is still little to no real money left at the end of the month to pay towards student loan debt.  The government is essentially paying for your AOM education.

    If this is a prospective student’s current situation, I would hope they would use extreme caution when considering attending acupuncture school.  This would almost ensure that they would need to finance their entire AOM education on student loans.  In the long run, this couple would be better both holding jobs that pay around $30,000 each and avoid taking on the student loan debt at all.

    Thanks for supplying the link to the IRS in regards to the student loan deduction details.  Keep in mind, it is also attached to the MAGI (modified adjusted gross income) and not simply what people ‘make’.

  36. Current 2011 tuition data please.

    If you can post the school that you went to along with the current 2011 tuition rates, this information would be more helpful to prospective students.

    And yes, it is very typical for AOM schools to only post their first year tuition details.  Prospective students should request to see a the full tuition details for the entire time they expect to be in school.  If the school can’t or won’t provide it, they should ask why not and proceed with extreme caution or not at all.

  37. You matriculated 18 years ago….current data please.

    If you can post the school that you went to along with the current 2011 tuition rates, this information would be more helpful to prospective students.

  38. Graduate Placement Rates?

    Chapter 8 regarding placement rates is a very interesting data.  It is extremely vague and my hunch is it should be title “Graduate Self-Placement Rates”. The methodology used to gather this data can be different at each school as a standard is no detailed in this document.  While the n values of the number of schools in each category are presented the n values of respondents are nowhere to be found in the placement analysis. 

    The CCAOM and ACAOM also wash their hands of any inacurate data by the following: “As annual report data are self-reported by accredited and candidate programs and have not been independently verified by ACAOM, any inaccuracies in the data reported by individual institutions and programs may impact the accuracy of data presented in this report. Readers are therefore cautioned not to reach definitive conclusions on statistical trends and projections based upon the data contained in this report.” 

    So just what are readers and prospective AOM students supposed to base their decisions on?

  39. True, but if that person

    True, but if that person doesn’t get an education he/she won’t be able to earn 30K, a 30K job is not easy to get for most people, minimum wage is half that, so it makes sense that the person would need to take a student loan.

  40. Fair enough, but not for an AOM education.

    Using the suggest borrowing rule that students should cap their total student loan borrowing BELOW the first year’s expected salary.  The NCCAOM Job Task Analysis didn’t provide a breakout per year in practice, so we don’t even know what baseline to use.  Based on their overall publicly provided data, it would be a wise choice for any prospective AOM student to keep their student loan borrowing under $30,000 total, for the entire cost of their education and living expenses.  If this isn’t possible, the financial risks outweigh the benefits.

  41. Yes, unfortunately so many

    Yes, unfortunately so many educational paths are overpriced like this, and won’t fall in line with the borrowing rule.  We need to get the prices down so they fall in line with a reasonable income level, schools (not just acu schools) are abusing the student loan system because they can, that is why we need serious reform that would force schools to bring down their prices so people aren’t borrowing the max if the income in that field is lower.  

    I fully agree that is unwise to borrow as much as an acupuncture education costs, but some are still going to do it, I’m not going to tell them to they can’t as long as they fully understand that there are no jobs, they will HAVE to succeed at a private practice, it’s as risky as an art, cooking, or fashion school.  If they are the type to give up when the going gets tough they better not even try.  Most acu students should work and take longer to graduate, and not borrow living expenses.  

    The loan has to be paid back, I knew what I was getting into, I decided not to have kids in order to do this.  People can go to acu school, but they better have a full understanding of the reality of what they are getting into. In the meantime we need to fight for reforming the schools and student loans so the price will fall more in line with the reality.

    I don’t have all the answers, I’m mostly playing devils advocate here. 

  42. Wow!  That’s quite a

    Wow!  That’s quite a difference, it’s outrageous that costs have increased like this, I’m sure you are just as safe and good of a practitioner as any recent graduate.  I do want to see a world filled more acupuncturists, but of course I don’t want anyone with a debt that ruins their lives. 

  43. SCAMCITY! oh no!

    The acu schools, by witholding information, perpetuate the very rumor that they started: acupuncture is a viable and profitable profession.  Even the tuitiion they charge, as the prices rise yearly, implies that acupuncture degrees are much more valuable as an asset than what the reality of the situation would and does say. Now, that’s my opinion, as all this is, but i’m not one to hold my tongue when i see something going on right in front of me.

    Acu skool is the same art skool, tech skool, cooking skool scam it always was. That’s why I dropped out, in part…  All it’s doing is keeping workers out of the workforce, putting the financial burden of what would otherwise be on-the-job training on the individual applying for the job. 

    The reality is that we’re a little more scammed in acu because the licensing board won’t let you do a less-inflated version than a master’s degree and still do acupuncture.  Instead of going to cooking skool, you can get a job working your way from the bottom up in kitchens for two years, and come out better than the person with a fakey degree.  You can’t do that in acu in the US.   

    I don’t know how it was for everybody, but I’ve been able to see now how two different acu skools work, and it’s sketchy as hell.

  44. Aren’t there still

    Aren’t there still apprentice routes to acupuncture certification? I don’t think those have ever been very popular though.  Are people who go through an apprentice program able to get licensed in most states? 

  45. school enrollment versus licensing numbers

    I have looked into this. It is hard to tell what are the schools’ enrollment numbers. I know this sounds like a broken record (dating myself) but schools are pretty silent on their data. Besides many schools string students along for many years as p/t, LOA, etc. However, the licensing numbers are pretty good. Keith Zabik provided the annual data. I have a nifty graph that shows when and how licensing leveled of after a steep climb. But I do not know how to cut it in here.

    In brief, from 1992 to 2004 total LAcs rose from just below 6,000 (nationally) to 27,663. A 12 year skyrocket. From 2005 to 2009 the number of total LAcs is essentially the same – 27K. How can this be? Most likely explanation is that the number of new enrollees is equal to the number of LAcs dropping out.

  46. Good question…

    …that I can’t answer.  I’ve heard enticing rumors that it’s a viable route to licensure, but I can’t name anyone that’s ever done it.  I’d love there to be more options…  I don’t know how the apprenticeship program works;  I didn’t know that was an option when I started then quit acu skool.  Personally, licensure sounds like a scam to me, too…  Back in the day, my grandma sat around with a group of other revolutionaries over the CAM book, and they taught eachother how to do acu.  I was hoping someone would chime in and say, yes, you can still aprentice, but we may have hit on this too far into the comment cycle to get a good response from someone who actually knows, if such a person exists.   

  47. What about those of use that

    What about those of use that are older and are saving before we go into it (i.e don’t plan to take on debt) other than a SBL to start our practice upon graduation? Would you say the same thing to them – don’t go into it? I mean the expected income is widely published and well known – so isn’t it just basic math and going in with your eyes wide open?

    It’s an honest question. I am many years out of my MBA and when people ask me whether or not to go into it I say not. But at the end of the day its will have afforded me the ability to take jobs that pay more than average and hence freedom to do other things in life. (after over a decade of killing myself in those jobs and killing myself to pay it off). I am not recommending people delay doing what they want for 10-15 years – but that is just where I found myself.

    There is a reason we can’t go back in time..we wouldn’t be where we are otherwise – even if we could do things differently given the chance.

  48. Don’t take on student loans for an AOM education

    If you happen to have a free $100,000 laying around, do whatever you want with it. But don’t take out students loans to pay for your acupuncture education. Since you have an MBA, you are probably already aware it’s not a good return on your investment. I would also be interested in your source(s) when you state “expected income is widely published and well known”. Most of the prospective students that I speak with are quite shocked when I share the NCCAOM JTA with them. One major difference to keep in mind between having an MBA vs an acupuncture degree is that there are actual jobs for people with an MBA.

  49. I respectfully disagree

    I think it is important that potential students come to this site and read the issues related to funding an acupuncture education through student loans, and the potential earnings etc before committing to school.

    But that does not mean that someone who dreams of being an acupuncturist should automatically throw in the towel.

    Money is a big consideration but I hope not the only consideration in choosing your livelihood.  Many professions that promise security do not deliver on the promise.  Right now there are many many new lawyers who are graduating with big loans and little job prospects.

    For myself I did borrow money to go to school (about $40000) and paid it off by working a second job while I did acupuncture part time.  It required sacrifice but it can be done. 

    If the CA movement had existed when I was entering school I would have actually been encouraged to attend, because it opens the possibility of suceeding at building a practice for more practitioners across the country. 

    Expose prospective students to the facts, definately to never borrow more than they need to, but don’t crush their dreams — that’s my new motto.

  50. i think most of us agree

    i think most of us agree that it’s heartbreaking to tell prospective students not to follow their dream. i’m glad i did, but the sobering reality is that if i’d realized that i would have no chance of paying off my debt–by working as an acupuncturist, i think i’d have to reconsider. i’m afraid that many practitioners who recommend the “go for it!” attitude were in a much different situation than current students face.

    i would urge prospective students to examine this statement and see if this is what you are actually after: “For myself I did borrow money to go to school (about $40000) and paid it
    off by working a second job while I did acupuncture part time.”

    paying off the debt, in this case $40,000, required working a second job and only practicing acupuncture part-time.
    and as was mentioned in another post, this took ten years.

    and $40,000 is about a third of what most students can currently expect to incur for 3-4 year program. see this thread for tuition only costs–
    $40-80,000 not including any living expenses during a full-time program). no idea the interest rate for a loan 10 years ago (many were fixed below 4%) but currently for many students is 6-8% and even higher for any private loans so, as Shauna points out, total cost is more realistically something over $100,000 at rising interest rates.

    i am in my last year of deferment and honestly dread the effect this repayment will have on my ability to continue to grow my clinic, with the prospect of a second job again ( i took one year off from other jobs to try to devote entirely to building my new business). it’s crippling to be in this catch-22 after giving so much of my resources to getting into a profession that can’t support me.

    so, if you want to invest this kind of time and money to most likely have to work a second job (presumably a pretty well-paying one), and only do acupuncture part-time for at least ten years (but since it’s triple the total cost and higher rates, realistically will take much, much longer) then it is a “good idea” for a new career. and that is just a tragedy, no doubt about it.



    Good health is not a measure of adapting to a sick society.

    When the power of love outshines the love of power, the world will know peace.

  51. It isn’t just about the math

    The interest rate on my loan was 6.85% which is no where close to 4%.  I did not borrow the full cost to attend school because I worked while I was in school and used a small amount of IRA savings (less than $10,000).  There was no way I was borrowing for tuition and living expenses when I could work while attending school, and I don’t recommend anyone else do so (and for the record, I attended a school that was out of state). 

    I am not recommending anyone borrow more than they can pay back.  I would wager that for almost all students the potential income from a community practice would be higher than that from a BA practice (I know that a CA practice is easier to build in my area).  If I knew about the CA model I would not have been trying to build a BA practice into a livelihood.

    That being said, there are more important things than money.  Sometimes in the quest for security people make decisions that they later regret.  I’m sure many many college students are currently feeling the same as some of you are, and they studied to be things like lawyers and accountants and are still out of work.

    I think acupuncture is worth the financial sacrifice.  If it is the right livelihood it is worth figuring out how to make it work using the excellent information found on this site.    

  52. Thank you!

    Though I have known that I would become an acupuncturist since I was 14 years old, 10 years later, I have yet to start a program. I know that I won’t feel fulfilled in any other career as I would practicing TCM, but it’s the cost that’s making me hesitate. I’m tempted to throw caution to the wind and say screw it – I can’t put a price on what my heart’s calling is, but the startup expenses once I graduate is enough to make me continue to wait to submit my completed OCOM application that’s been waiting impatiently for years.

    I wouldn’t know this dark secret if I hadn’t worked for so many years at a clinic, doing admin duties. One of the practitioners is going back to school for his BSN for this very reason. It just doesn’t add up. So while there are great strides being made in the mainstream acceptance of TCM’s efficacy, and while insurance companies are slowly accepting acupuncture’s validity as a form of legitimate medicine, all of this comes with a cost that the schools are not acknowledging. I’m dubious of the value the advancements of TCM in the medical community when the cost is being passed on to practitioners. It makes me romantically long for an era in which I could have found a teacher to apprentice under. No, I wouldn’t have made any money then either, but at least I wouldn’t have to deal with an expensive degree and passing a licensure exam. (I’m laughing to myself, thinking of how similar a situation this is to the medicinal marijuana debate).

    All this goes without saying that at the core of practicing acupuncture and other healing arts is a holistic approach inside and out of care, sincerity, devotion to balance… I can’t imagine how difficult it is to keep oneself grounded and attentive when a dark cloud of student loans hangs overhead.

    When insurance claims can’t easily be billed for the same amount of money as a doctor’s visit for the same ailment, yet acupuncturists spend far more time with each patient, it’s wrong for schools to not reflect this in their tuition costs. The bottom line is that MA costs roughly the same amount as an RN nursing degree would cost, but the return is not reflected in this at all.

    I hope that I’m making sense. I’m up very late, and came across this page while I was once again trying to decipher a way to make this dream happen. Perhaps my money would be better invested if I move to the Himalayas. But then, what money is it that am I talking about??? smile.

    Best of luck to everyone. We can make this better. I don’t know how, but we will. Mainly I believe that the type of personality that this profession inherently attracts is tenacious beyond its consciousness, and resilient beyond belief.

    Thank you again for opening this conversation.

  53. I do, but I can’t.

    PS, my boyfriend recently proposed to me, and I said yes, but not legally. He was very hurt until I quickly qualified my answer by saying that it was because of FAFSA and Sallie Mae that I can’t legally marry him or risk him being tied to any of my toxic student loan debt. Yes, I knew what I was doing when I signed the dotted line, and no, I don’t have an unmanageable amount as I worked and got a scholarship, but still, it makes me laugh to think of how this could be a scene out of a Hollywood romantic comedy. Oh well. Do civil unions carry these same implications???

  54. Bingo!

    I wouldn’t suggest going. At least not now. There are people who  are trying to change what is possible for an acupuncture school to offer in a more economically priced format. To teach you what you need to succeed clinically and financially while serving an entire community. No matter how much you ‘love’ the idea of being an acupuncturist. The debt to income ratio is excessively out of balance. Visit the NCCAOM site and see if your option of completing the education through an apprenticeship is still possible. I think they decided to keep this route due to pressure from the international and school interests. Use this to your advantage and seek out what you can.

  55. Not sure about civil unions…

    That’d be worth your time to check out too. I only know what I wrote about from my experience. But someone else might be able to chime in.

  56. Acupuncture, the community

    Acupuncture, the community way, it’s NOT about a :calling: or knowing
    your path, or any of the other lines private skools are currently
    selling to more than acu students.  You’re not your job.  No one is,
    anymore.  There’s no professional pride in AOM, no useful resources available
    to acu skool graduates (mostly) apart from what we have created here…

    nice to have a job you like, but that’s pretty rare in general these
    days, and to forego the possibility of any kind of future financial security by going to acu skool for the
    sake of your heartsong, your tao, your
    whatever-the-shit-they-call-it-in-the-glossy-brochure they will send to you, let me
    assure you, is a horrible, miserable, soul-crushing idea, and your path is
    not what the skools are interested in. 

    They don’t care if you
    drop out, they don’t care if you succeed, they don’t care how special
    you are, or even how to correctly spell your name when they put it in
    calligraphy on your diploma.  They want your fistful of monies, and up
    front!  They package your dreams up, and tie it with a little bow to
    sell back to you at the highest price they can get away with…  they
    have already raped your dreams before you have time to clarify what they
    are!  Apprenticeship would be nice… but i’ll say again, hell no to
    private acu skool, private loan debt, acu skool owners making six
    figures, and a big ‘ol hell no to being made into a sucker. 

  57. Oriental Medicine in China

    is also a barefoot doctor career. Most doctors have to be in their 50s and 60s to be qualified as experienced doctor to have lots of business.

    it usually peers with western medicine inside the same hospital. You need to pay extra fees for visiting the doc but the herbal medicine and acupuncture treatment is usually insurance covered. 

    any business is about to make money ( no matter you have an MBA or not or no matter you are in CAN model or private practice )

    Here in the United States, to be a nurse or PT is way earsier to make money compared to invest 4 years in acupuncture school. All data prove that.

    Dr. Ni gave a good example for how to practice successful in Oriental Medicine. Check his website:

    his standards for selecting patients is higher 

    In solo practice, there is never an earsier way!

  58. High Cost of Acu-Edu…

    Hi, just wanted to thank you for your article, I wish I would have seen it when I was first starting school.

    I have been in practice for one year and have about $135K in debt from 1st degree, acu school and added interest. I think the total for acu school ended up at about 98K.

    I worked part time through school, but earned barely enough to help cover groceries & gas. My husband, who works in a creative field, earned enough at the time to help cover rent and all other bills. The difference was made up with the student loans.

    It is the worst financial decision I have ever made in my life, and I regret it. If I could do it all over, I would pursue western medicine to have an income (and experience!), and then maybe consider TCM education. This is extremely sad for me, as I love the medicine, and I love my patients and seeing them on a path to wellness.

    At this point, I am considering another career just to pay for this mistake and to hopefully be able to continue to practice and help people someday. Unfortunately, any career with solid pay requires more debt, as part time acu salary combined with creative career salary minus living expenses, bills and payments won’t allow for educational expense.

    I have never been overly interested in money or finance, and now I am paying the price for not developing a more practical approach to personal finance.

    The school I attended, AOMA in Austin, did not at any time make any statements or suggestions regarding a practical approach to financing an education at their institution. The financial aid counseling was the standard “this is a debt and must be repaid…” This may have changed since I graduated, I am not sure.

    To balance out the gloom of the indebtedness, I surely did learn a lot and had some excellent teachers. However, that in itself does not pay the bills! I have often joked to friends that, “everyone seems to be getting rich from acupuncture, except for the acupuncturists!”

    Thanks again for the information, and at least for now, I would also not advise anyone who would need financial aid for acu education to consider this as a career.

  59. KK, you’re welcome!

    There are many AOM students and graduates starting to open up about their school experiences and where they are now regarding student loan debt, income and the reality of an AOM degree on the open ‘job’ market. If you are interested in working in the community acupuncture setting, please consider joining CAN and connecting with clinic owners looking to hire other punks. If you are ready to open your own CA clinic, make connects with other punks in your area. We can all agree that we love the medicine!

    knowing what you know now, do your part and speak honestly when someone says they want to become an acupuncturist. Do you really think developing even more of a practical approach to personal finance would have helped you with the overpriced cost of the AOM education relative to your expected income? Probably not. If you had that information on the front end, you may have made a different choice. Pay it forward to prospective AOM students and tell them all the things you wished you would have known before you started acupuncture school.

  60. Trying to access the link in Shauna’s comment that says

    “In an effort to feed your curiosity & more background about my methodology of managing my finances through acu school, please refer to the Dollars & Sense blog”

    The link doesn’t take me to anything useful and when I do a keyword search, I don’t find anything that seems to be the blog she is referring to.

  61. PIHMA is the most horrific acupuncture school in the country because of its registration paperwork department. Students have cried because of how they were treated even though they were guided to the classes that they then were blamed for being in.