Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks


Acupuncturist? Doctor? Healer? What Do I Call You Guys Anyway?
by Brian Benjamin Carter

What is the official title a person holds after they have graduated from an Masters of Science program from a school of accupunture and oriental medicine and passed the state board test? I have heard several different title from Dr. of Oriental Medicine to holistic practitioner. What is one's official title to practice?


Great question- the official answer is that it depends on the state law. The real answer is that it depends on you.

I believe that legally it's generally not ok for a chinese medical practitioner to represent themselves as a "Doctor" unless they have a PhD or doctorate in something else... however, there are some who got OMD or DOM degrees back in the 80's.

In California, the law is quite specific that an L.Ac. cannot represent themselves as a Doctor unless they have another degree. However, in the business and professions code we are described as "physicians." We can also act as primary care physicians.

Many schools award a Master's degree, but shorter programs offer only a diploma or certificate. In a few states they are going to be offering PhD's in Oriental Medicine soon.

Some Names and Acronyms

In California, we're called LAc, Licensed Acupuncturist.

In CO, it's RAc, Registered Acupuncturist.

Other places use DAc for Diplomate of Acupuncture.

What's in a Name?

Of course, these are inadequate titles because they don't say anything about herbs, moxibustion, cupping- in fact, acupuncture is just one modality (a treatment) rather than a system of medicine.

The system of medicine is called Oriental Medicine... it's not just Chinese because there are distinct Korean and Japanese styles. And actually it's not just Oriental because it continues to develop- there are some distinctly French innovations (not sure if they're good yet!), and American variations are developing as well. But it's all based on the original Chinese Medical theory, pathology, etc. Fully 25% of our California state board licensure test is on herbs, but we are licensed as Licensed Acupuncturist. It doesn't reflect the whole medicine. Our profession needs a better name for it!

It's not the greatest to call biomedical physicians "Medical Doctors" either... they practice only one kind of medicine- biomedical. They don't learn Oriental Medicine. We do, but we aren't officially called "Medical" doctors. I still have a hard time saying I've been to medical school- most people would assume I meant biomedical school.

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Real Doctors

It's the biomedical physicians' belief that their medicine is the only real one. Some jokingly call them "R.D.'s" (Real Doctors). And it's a sarcastic not a flattering term.

Arrogance and Ignorance

Masters Degree Licensed Acupuncturists cannot learn pharmacology in a weekend course and then legally prescribe drugs. But MD's and DC's (chiropractors) can take a 100hr course and practice acupuncture. That should be banned. Imagine the outrage if LAc's could take a weekend class on pharmacology and then prescribe drugs. "We can look it up," they say. Yeah, so could we. Not a high standard for medicine, is it?

The precedent is that one should be adequately educated before they can practice any medicine- it' s only MD's who are allowed to 'fool around' with other medicines. And that's due to the false assumption that they already have the basics. It's an antiquated notion from back when everyone had to be good enough at the basics of medicine to be in the middle of nowhere without a hospital or a ton of specialists. These days it's different, but the idea that MD's know enough to practice anything has yet to change. In fact, MD's can do plastic "surgery" without any specialized training whatsoever. There is even an association that for a fee will send them a certificate for absolutely no training.

In China there are 3 main division of medicine:

  • Western medicine (WM)
  • Chinese Medicine (CM) and
  • Integration of Western and Chinese Medicine (IWCM)

Each of those 3 branches has their own hospitals, clinics, and schools.

Chinese Medicine is an independent system totally different from what MD's learn. The idea that they can practice one of our modalities without the medical system from which it is derived is arrogant and foolish. Sure, they can probably do it without puncturing your lung, kidneys, or brainstem, but can they get good results? If they don't, it's not acupuncture that's at fault, but their arrogance and lack of training.

I don't blame them for wanting to get in on such an effective, needed, and profitable medicine. And I understand that they've already gone to school for 7-10 years and paid a lot of money for that. But at least they could have the humility to learn our medicine before they practice it!

However, some medical acupuncturists do learn the traditional medicine, and practice acupuncture full-time. I have greater respect for these MD's than those that just 'fool around' with acupuncture, or rely only on recent acupuncture outcome studies."

(For more about medical acupuncture vs. licensed acupuncture, read this article.)

Doctor as a Term of Respect

The fact is, though, that many patients call L.Ac.'s 'doctor' anyway. They do so out of respect. After all, if the guy helps you, maybe even more than your RD (Real Doctor) did, doesn't he deserve the title too? These days, MD's have lost a lot of respect and trust... legally they still are called doctors.

(I know another guy with a Master's degree that jokes, "Fine, I'll call you Doctor, so long as you call me Master.")

The Historical Meaning of Doctor

But many people seem to have forgotten what a doctor is. The original medieval latin meant "to teach." That implies a relationship with the patient. Leadership, sponsorship, mentorship... Fixing your medical problems became part of the word in the 14th c., but we still recognize a broader doctor archetype. Carl Jung expanded the doctor archetype to "healer," and discussed the idea of a "wounded healer" implied by the Biblical adage "Physician, heal thyself." The root of the word patient and passion is the same: "suffering." The healer must have compassion for his patient.

The Chinese Medical Physician as the Ultimate Healer

This is the golden nugget that most patients discover with traditional acupuncturist/herbalists. Chinese medicine takes the whole person into account and treats disease with that in mind, so the chinese healer has to really get to know you.

Chinese Medicine is not a profession for those who dislike conversation and relationship! Sure, you can treat pain and sports medicine only, and that minimizes the necessary relationship time... but most who are drawn to a holistic medicine are invigorated by the interchange. It's stereotypically the opposite of the MD/DO... instead of having to focus on relationship to keep their patients happy, the acupuncturist has to focus on time-efficiency to keep their business going! It's not black and white, of course, but these are some generalities that explain what kind of doctors/healers chinese medicine practitioners are.

All the best!

Find a Licensed Acupuncturist here: "Resources for Finding Acupuncturists and Herbalists"



All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.
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