Acupuncture is Not Rocket Science (and other reasons the FPD is a bad idea)

I’ve got some staggering news for those who might not already know it: acupuncture is not rocket science.  Not even close.

When I first found out about the proposed First Professional Doctorate (FPD), my thoughts were “just what, on earth, do the schools intend on attempting to add to their current curricula to justify requiring a FPD as the educational standard for acupuncture?”  

It is no surprise to me that, for a variety of reasons, having an already grandiose educational status in order to attempt to impress people and make them think we’re worth trusting as medical professionals is not working.  And now an even more grandiose status is being considered with the façade that it will attempt to more greatly prove our worth to people and make us better at what we do.  It’s a huge lie.  Nobody cares what LAC BLAH BLAH BLAH initials go on the end of our names, and acupuncture is not rocket science.

Acupuncture is so very simple.  Schools want to make it seem much more complicated than it really is, with lengthy, drawn-out educational requirements.  Current coursework involves highly theoretical, non-practical material and adjunctive fluff.  Then, around the time of graduation, you have to pay more money to take the NCCAOM exams that include even more highly bizarre and impractical questions – before finally paying your state board of medicine for licensure.  All that we learn can lead to esoteric conversations, but it doesn’t make anyone better at BEING an acupuncturist, or HELPING to REACH OUT to those who are in need.  It also doesn’t make any acupuncturist closer to MAKING A MODEST LIVING (never mind an affluent one) or surviving comfortably in the long run as an acupuncturist.

My acupuncture education was three years, year-round, and included a LOT of requirements that just didn’t make any sense – or have any way of making me better at what I do as an acupuncturist today.  Examples of seriously bogus requirements included tai chi, tuina (should be an elective), two courses on the history of Chinese medicine (I respect the history, but it is neither essential nor practical), and multiple sciences: chemistry, biochemistry, organic chemistry, physics, general biology and molecular biology.  Because obviously I’m going to be analyzing molecular compounds and trying to find the torque of the needle when it is twisted upon insertion!  Right.  As for student clinic, my experience was pretty comparable to the one described in David’s post.

After all this coursework, my time, money and qi was seriously depleted, and I had a solid foundation for the practice of acupuncture according to traditional Chinese medical (TCM) theory – and ONLY according to TCM theory.  I have since taken my own initiative to learn more (as many of us do) by studying with Dr. Tan and coursework on Master Tung.  I spent a grand total of about 30 hours in these continuing ed courses, and the material covered in these weekend lectures now make up about 70% of the way that I practice now.  I have found these methods to be so much more simple, practical and EFFECTIVE than that which I learned in school.  They are also absolutely essential to treating people in recliners as is done in a community acupuncture clinic.

In my eyes, acupuncture school shouldn’t be something that exhausts one’s resources of time, qi and money.  Acupuncture isn’t inherently that complicated, but you’d never guess that from all the current educational requirements.  It can be studied in a much more approachable, practical and succinct way than currently exists.  The end goal should be acupuncturists practicing safely and effectively, without massive debt, so that they can graduate school, get to work and be useful to other people by making it accessible while making enough to comfortably earn a living.  There is no need to make it more complicated than that.

Chinese herbal medicine, on the other hand, is much more complex and ought to require more education than acupuncture.  To this end, as is done in China, I believe that all schools should have separate requirements for acupuncture and herbs; they need not be studied together.  In my experience, upon graduating, despite always doing well in my herb courses, I found myself having had a terribly inadequate preparation for the practice of Chinese herbal medicine.  I had to seek out a master herbalist to study with, and continued for a year and a half; even that could have been done more, but again, lack of time, qi and money forced me to give that up.  Herbs do, in fact, take much more work to learn than acupuncture.  Although both utilize TCM theory, they need not always be practiced together.

Many new practitioners are in a horrible bind by the time they finish school.  School saps us of qi, money and time – the 3 most important things we need to go out there and make it as acupuncturists once we graduate.  It comes as no surprise to me that so many people never end up practicing, or end up failing shortly after they become licensed.  Lisa’s thread alludes to the challenges we face when we open our new clinics.  The statistic for those who end up practicing acupuncture in the long run is woefully low.  The amount of people we could potentially help dwindles.  FPD to the rescue?  I think not.

I could mention what others have about the problems with the impending FPD: the lack of accessibility to future acupuncturists and the ramifications of the increased time, qi and money necessary to fulfill the educational requirements; but I won’t, because many of these issues have already been well-written about, so you can read about them, and I wanted to keep my focus here to just the educational piece.  I’m sure there are points I’ve missed – please feel free to add your thoughts in as comments!

Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that my petitions are out on the front desk for my patients to sign, and I’m spreading the word to my colleagues who aren’t CAN members, with hopes that they, too, will do their homework and help get this FPD idea scratched.

Author: Justine_Myers

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  1. rocket science

    LOL: “Because obviously I’m going to be analyzing molecular compounds and trying to find the torque of the needle when it is twisted upon insertion!”

    “Meanwhile, I’m happy to report that my petitions are out on the front desk for my patients to sign, and I’m spreading the word to my colleagues who aren’t CAN members, with hopes that they, too, will do their homework and help get this FPD idea scratched.”

    Thank you, Justine!  That is the single most important thing to be done right now: gathering signatures on petitions.  xo

  2. copies of petition printed,

    my letter to AC-something or other written.  I am going to make some phone calls to my esteemed acupuncture colleagues (a chance to say hello to neighbors I’ve not yet met–hi!  sign this…and old friends..hi!!!! sign this or I’ll kick your butt!) and hope I don’t have as slow a week at work as it’s lookin’ right now.


    Are there other ears who need to hear this?  Should we copy all of our efforts and send them to the President or Acupuncture Today since it is so left leaning and understanding (slurp)? Or do the children of the revolution (a movie I highly recommend for some comic/serious relief by the way) called the CAN Board already have the plan well in hand?  I suspect by the flury of activity, well in hand.

  3. No qi, no money, no

    No qi, no money, no time.  

    Exactly. To all of it.

    Robbing people interested in helping people feel better of EVEN MORE qi, money, and time is unthinkable, IMO. I keep waiting for the uprising of students who fall in love with the ‘barefoot acupuncture’ type healing model, and just want to get to the basics of how to stick needles in to help people out…I am hoping for a revolt, for people to pressure schools enough to get trained only as acupuncturists, and leave out a lot of the herbs, western med, science, and philosophy.

    Here in San Diego, Acu school is 4 years, year round, and new mandatory classes seem to be added every few terms. I remember trying to quanitify what in my education had value for my future as an acupuncturist. It was maybe 20-30%.

    We are so, so, lucky to be able to own community acupuncture clinics, and get to do what we were meant to do all along. At least there’s some hope. Once the profession is fully invested in training “doctors,” the students attracted will be those who want to be doctors, and while there still may be down-to-earth get-the-job-done types, it seems more likely that this new breed will be folded into the insurance system, and will face the same trap as MDs and DCs.

    Students! Fight this! The sexiness of being called “doctor” is not worth trading the chance to rescue your time, money, and qi. Next mission: acu trade school. If we can figure out legal licensing, I promise to help start one up.

    Great blog Justine. Thank you.