[See Our Press Release: Leading
Womens Website Bungles Health Information]
A rash of inaccurate and one-sided information (in late
2002) from popular women's media had licensed acupuncturists,
students, and college administrators up in arms.
Someone tried to tell quite a slanted story on iVillage.com.
They say physicians can practice acupuncture better than
we can, and are more likely to pick up signs of dangerous
health conditions than we are.
Who are we? Licensed Acupuncturists.
What's the difference?
Medical Acupuncture is the name given to MD's, DO's, and
DC's (chiropractors) who practice acupuncture.
Licensed Acupuncturists study mostly chinese medicine
along with the basics of western medicine.
How much training does each type of acupuncturist get?
Training varies for medical acupuncturists because they are not
held to minimum educational hours or a minimum competency level.
Some are dedicated and learn much more than their peers. Most
(80-90%) do not.
The following chart portrays the average acupuncturists of each
(Avg for 25 schools)
Acu & OM Training Hours
Avg is 1
weekend seminar - between 16 and 300 hours.
Fulltime accredited colleges
Wknd seminars and/or videotape
Clinical Experience in Acupuncture
270 patient visits
Western Medical Training Hours
Total Educational Hours
Masters of Science in Oriental
Average Years in School
- 4 years of school, 3 years of residency
- 6 years (DC)
According to the American Academy of Medical Acupuncturists,
"a minimum of 300 hours of systematic acupuncture training"
is required for a physician to be certified as a medical acupuncturist.
This is optional, however. In many states, physicians can practice
acupuncture without any certification at all.
Lynda Harvey, L.Ac., a professor and clinical supervisor at the
Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM) comments, "Some
of us feel that the equivalent would be if Licensed Acupuncturists
could take a weekend class in pharmacology and then go out and
prescribe pharmaceutical drugs to our patients." Indeed,
physicians would be in an uproar if such a thing was ever considered.
These misinformed articles in Cosmo and on iVillage imply that
Medical Acupuncturists can practice acupuncture better than we
can. Look at the top two rows in the chart above, and you'll see
how likely that is.
Medical Acupuncture Spokesperson Denounces Misinformation
Jim Dowden, Executive Administrator of the American Academy of
Medical Acupuncture (AAMA) says, "The bulk of our physicians
use acupuncture as an add-on modality; it comprises only 10-20%
of their practice." When asked about the iVillage inaccuracies,
he said, "Most health writers are accustomed to doctors referring
patients to other practitioners. I wasn't aware of that information.
It certainly doesn't come from anything we've said."
When you look at the numbers, it's clear that Licensed Acupuncturists
are getting a much more rigorous and diverse acupuncture education.
Plus, acupuncture usually comprises at least two-thirds of their
practice. They get significantly more clinical experience than
So, the fact is that some of the press still hasn't caught on
to the realities of acupuncture. Which is funny, because they
are so quick to criticize western medicine... you'd think they'd
jump on the idea that L.Ac.'s are a great alternative.
The Safety of Seeing a Licensed Acupuncturist
As for not being able to pick up ominous (red flag) symptoms
and signs, I can't speak for the other schools, but at PCOM since
our biomedical education is short, we spent the time talking about
those very issues. We learned what kind of pain signals pancreatitis,
the warning signs of cancer, TIA's, strokes, heart attacks, deep
venous thromboses, etc. We are properly educated to pick up danger
signals, and we know when to refer out.
The Danger of the Patient who Hates MD's
The only time it is critical for the acupuncturist to pick up
red flags is when they are the patient's only healthcare provider.
Most of the time, our patients have a regular MD/DO and/or DC.
But there is the rare patient who is so against western medicine
that they refuse to get tests or see an MD. In this case, we do
our best to convince them to change their mind.
MD's never miss critical diagnoses?
I think a fair counter-question would be: Given that in the currently
normative HMO managed care situation, what is the chance that
an MD/DO (who has 5-7 minutes maximum with their patient) will
pick up those critical symptoms and signs themselves? You can't
tell me they don't miss some of them.
Medical Error is Unavoidable
The study of medical error and how to prevent it is a major effort
in which many physicians, researchers, and academic have joined.
Studies have shown dramatic error rates of 10% or more. Many believe
that medical error is unavoidable, no matter how much we try to
prevent it. I'm sure that doesn't make you feel too safe.
Acupuncture is Incomparably Safer than Drugs or Surgery
The statistics for how many people die in hospitals and from
pharmaceutical drugs per year in the U.S. alone are stunning.
98,000 people per year is often quoted. Even if we give them the
benefit of the doubt, we must admit the number is in the tens
Compare that to three retrospective studies of acupuncture treatments
of a total of 121,520 treatments... all the patients lived, and
only 198 experience minor problems like dizziness, a drop of blood
coming out, or finding a needle that wasn't removed after the
It can't treat everything, but it's the safest first line treatment
for most non-life-threatening conditions.
MD's who practice acupuncture not taken seriously by other MD's
I don't envy them- they're stuck in the middle. Some Medical
Acupuncturists try to claim that they specialize in acupuncture.
But hundreds of thousands of their colleagues don't take them
seriously. Why? Because real medical specialties have serious
educational and clinical training requirements.
Sorry, but you can't take a weekend course and expect to be a
specialist in anything!
Who is More Competent to Practice Acupuncture?
The better questions are:
- Would you prefer to be needled by the better trained, or the
less trained acupuncturist?
- Would you prefer to be treated by someone with a lot of experience,
or a little?
- Would you like to be treated by someone educated in the original
medicine of acupuncture, or someone who's just read a few point
Are Licensed Acupuncturists Always Better At Acupuncture?
I can't say that's true. It's probably a better rule of thumb
to assume that there are good and bad doctors, and there are good
and bad acupuncturists. The difference is that licensed acupuncturists
are held to a minimum level of education and competency in acupuncture.
Medical acupuncturists are not. So, it would be better to say
that the worst medical acupuncturist is light-years worse than
the worst licensed acupuncturist.
What About Really Good Medical Acupuncturists?
But there might be medical acupuncturists who spend so much time
studying and practicing traditional acupuncture that they become
better than many licensed acupuncturists. On the upper end of
the scale, it's more about intelligence, education, and experience.
So in Conclusion...
- Go see a licensed acupuncturist.
- If you find the rare MD, DO, or DC who has decided to devote
his whole practice to acupuncture, and/or they are also an L.Ac.,
you may have found a good one.
- Otherwise, stick with the well-educated and more experienced
sort of acupuncturists - licensed acupuncturists.
- And let your MD to stay on top of the red flags.
Find a licensed acupuncturist here: "Resources
for Finding Acupuncturists and Herbalists"