What Do People Think You Do?
Acupuncture can seem like quite a “mystical” field to those who have never tried it. I find many people who think that acupuncturists are hippies, do magic, “woo-woo,” or are Chinese. In fact, there are just about as many types of acupuncturists and ways to practice as there are people! You can specialize in sports medicine, become a researcher, work with pain, treat emotional disorders, or have an open general practice. You can practice with a very medical/scientific approach or take on styles that are more classically-based. There is really an approach for everyone.
The other misconception is that acupuncturists just “stick needles in people.” Actually, there is quite a lot of listening, diagnosing, testing, talking, emailing, and lifestyle coaching involved. Most acupuncturists involve some other form of care in each visit (nutritional advice, herbal medicine, massage, etc…) and the needles are just one part of it.
Those who have been to an acupuncturist and learn that I am one myself often say, “Wow! You have the most relaxing job ever!” While being an acupuncturist can be an amazing profession and a great way to help others, it is far from relaxing! You actually need to be quite business-minded, quick on your feet, compassionate, and turned-on for most of the day. You become part-therapist, part-doctor, part-teacher, but often get none of the credit (or credentials)! It is a labor of love, but if you feel inclined to take on a healing profession that goes deeper, where you can feel fully involved in your patients’ care, this might be for you.
What Do You Really Do?
Being an acupuncturist involves just as much business as it does medicine. While Eastern medicine and patient care are at the core of being an acupuncturist, being a good business owner is essential to making it in the field.
I had no idea when I graduated acupuncture school just how much marketing, negotiating, and admin was involved. I thought I could rent a great space, put out a sign, and people would come. It’s much more involved! So, while most of my day-to-day involves hearing people’s health stories, administering acupuncture treatments, researching diagnoses and treatments, and interacting with colleagues, much of the background work is either outreach (responding to emails, planning workshops, advertisement) or business-related.
The plus side is: running your own business can be fun! It allows for lots of creativity, you can plan your own schedule (to some extent), and more and more people are looking for acupuncture.
A Day In The Life
A typical day in my life as an acupuncturist involves arriving at the practice I work from (here I work within a bigger practice so much of the admin is done for me – yay!) and looking through the schedule for the day. If there are voicemails, I will check them to see if anyone needs to cancel, reschedule, or wants to set up a new appointment. Then I make sure the rooms are all prepared for patients. I turn on the lights, the heat, restock needles or tools, and make sure the beds are made.
I usually see four people before lunch, usually two people per hour. When the first patient arrives, I take him or her into our treatment room and we go over how they have progressed since their last treatment. We talk for 15 minutes or so before we begin the treatment. I insert 8-20 acupuncture needles in different points along their arm, legs, abdomen, or back. If they are comfortable, I let them rest while I bring the next patient back. We repeat the process. When each patient is done with their session (about 30 minutes later), I remove their needles and perform any other treatment we need to do that day. Perhaps a small massage, cupping, herbal formula. Then I take payment and we decide when to schedule the next appointment.
The same process continues throughout the day with an average of 8-10 patients per day. This is pretty typical among acupuncturists, but some do this differently. Some may see five or ten people per hour, while others only see one. It all depends on your style and endurance!
Between patients there is often a few minutes to check emails, order new supplies, clean up, make the beds, and answer incoming calls. Much of the marketing work is done after hours, on my free time, or sourced out to others (such as web design, etc).
A typical day usually includes several patient “wins” – reduced pain, improved test results, a confirmed pregnancy (fertility), or other good news related to the patient’s care. There are likely some down moments too. A patient may have gotten bad news, is not responding to care, cancels last minute, or decides to stop treatment. It is all part of a normal day.
What’s The Average Income?
$30,000 – $55,000
What Education If Any Is Needed?
To become an acupuncturist, you’ll need to attend an accredited Master’s program. Some schools/states require a Bachelor’s as well, but others you can complete the Master’s training without the undergrad degree.
Most acupuncture degrees are 3-4 years and include both classroom training and clinical internships. Here you will be able to practice in different settings and with different mentors.
After graduating from your acupuncture program, you’ll need to sit for the national board exams and apply for licensure in your desired state. Each stat has different requirements, fees, and processing times.
If you are interested in becoming an acupuncturist, the first step I recommend is to look up practitioners in your area. Reach out to one or two that you resonate with and offer to meet them for coffee/tea or even to shadow them a day in their office. This is the best way to get a close look at what to expect and pick their brain on what it’s like to practice in your area. Then, start researching acupuncture colleges and apply! Most admissions offices are very open and eager to help new students so take advantage and ask any questions you have.
Something Important To Know
Becoming an acupuncturist can be quite a long, expensive, and arduous process, similar to becoming a chiropractor or physical therapist. Tuition is high and earning potential can be low for 5-10 years as you build your business. If you do consider becoming an acupuncturist, brush up on marketing skills from day one! This will put you way ahead of the game by the time you graduate. I also recommend working out of someone else’s practice for a few years before jumping into private practice. It saves money and you’ll learn a lot about how you’d run your own practice in the future.
Overall, being an acupuncturist can be very rewarding. You can help people everyday through natural medicine, encourage them, lend a listening ear, and even have a few laughs. Many of my patients feel like friends rather than clients and I look forward to catching up as much as practicing the medicine. There is quite a lot of one-on-one time so if you find yourself exhausted with too much interaction, consider how you could structure your practice to balance this. Those who are more extroverted or energetic might also need to find a way to practice where there is plenty of interaction and less downtime.
There is no one type of acupuncturist. Different people will find a “fit” with different kinds of practitioners, so go into it as your best self.