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

First Published January 1, 2003

Getting an Acupuncture License
in California

by Brian Benjamin Carter

Brian is the founder of the Pulse of Oriental Medicine, medical professor at Pacific College of Oriental Medicine, and author of Powerful Body, Peaceful Mind: How to Heal Yourself with Foods, Herbs, and Acupressure.

Test Anxiety and Overwhelm: Why I'll Be Writing Fewer Articles until Jan 22nd

[Ok, let's be honest; I'll try to write less. But whenever my wife's not looking, I might be sneaking off to write Pulse articles!]

The California State Board test for licensing in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine is intimidating. After 4 years at a school with one of the highest pass rates, I am still intimidated. Even though I am one of the better test-takers I know, and have a semi-photographic memory, I am still anxious.

Can I tell you why? Because I put all the books we have to know (by heart) next to each other (as if on a book shelf), and they measured 3 feet long.

We have to know:

  • 160 single herbs, each with several functions (and specific indications under those), entering channels, taste and temperature, cautions and contraindications (12 x 160 = 1920 pieces of info)
  • 63 herb formulas, their individual herb ingredients (5-15), dosages, common modifications, functions, indications, cautions and contraindications (63 x 40 = 2520 pieces of info)
  • 400 or so points, their locations (and nearby bones, muscles, nerves, and blood vessels), functions and indications (400 x 12 = 4800)
  • The theory behind points- various types of points, and for each meridian the well, spring, stream, source, river, sea, luo, and xi-cleft, and several other groupings of points like the upper and lower meeting points, 8 extra channel points, upper and lower he-sea points, etc (12 x 7 = 84 + 4 + 8 + 12 = 108)
  • 151 diseases like common cold and asthma, their typical pattern differentiations, and acupuncture and herbal formula treatment for each (151 x 4 x 10 = 6040)
  • Western medicine information- one of our reference texts is Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. Harrison's contains specialty-level biomedical information- stuff only specialists know! We were not taught from that book, unfortunately; even the Merck Manual, which is much simpler and more accessible than Harrison's, would be a challenge to learn in its entirety. (Hard to quantify!)
  • Even more info on pharmacology, biomedical anatomy, physiology, pathophysiology, correspondences between herbal formulas and point formulas, modifications of the 63 required formulas...
  • Two-thirds of the questions are case studies. This means integrating diagnosis with treatment.

And to top it all off, we will only be asked a total of 200 questions. That means, for example, about the at least 4440 pieces of info we need to know about herbs, we will only be asked 34 questions. So even if we learn all of those pieces of info, we won't be tested on 99.3% of it. Those who pass have proven they have an encyclopedia of info in their heads, at least for 24 hours.

Which brings up the topic of cramming (last-minute short-term memorizing). It isn't really possible to cram that much information. Fortunately, we are not required to recall the info (fill in the blank), simply to recognize it (multiple choice). Recognition-learning is a much easier task... however, I've always been the kind of learner who learns to recall and then can fly through a multiple choice test faster than anyone else. In this case, it is impossible to memorize everything that well. So, I'm going through all the info with a highlighter; the highlighter illuminates info I didn't know or that doesn't proceed logically from other things I already know.

The amount of info is gargantuan, monstruous, scary. I have a bunch of notes, comparisons, charts, etc. based on the required texts- those notes fill about 6" of binders.

Enough complaining- I just want to give you a sense of what we have to know in CA to get an acupuncture license. I think it's good, actually. I just wish that medical acupuncturists (not to mention acupuncturists at a national level) were held to this level of knowledge. Then they could all suffer like me! ;-)

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