Acupuncturists bring a completely unique skill set to healthcare — and they’re needed now more than ever. In fact, acupuncturists are being integrated into many healthcare settings that weren’t even an option 20 years ago.
If you’d like a career in healthcare but haven’t found a profession that feels right to you, then you may want to consider acupuncture. As an acupuncturist myself, as well as the dean of Northwestern Health Sciences University’s College of Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine, I have seen the exciting changes in this field firsthand.
In the following, I’ll describe four reasons to consider being an acupuncturist. But first, let’s take a closer look at what acupuncturists actually do.
What do acupuncturists do?
Acupuncturists use techniques rooted in Chinese medicine to treat illnesses and improve health. More specifically, they stimulate prescribed points on the body through the use of sterilized needles or similar techniques that involve heat, pressure, or electric current.
Understanding the East Asian perspective of the body is integral to being an effective practitioner of acupuncture. However, to be successful in today’s modern healthcare environment, acupuncturists also need to understand the Western, biomedical-based perspective.
Special note on education requirements. In the U.S., attending an accredited acupuncture or Chinese medicine program and obtaining a master’s degree is the minimum education requirement to become an acupuncturist. Note that there is a movement toward doctoral degree training.
Let’s now turn to those reasons for becoming an acupuncturist.
1 – Enjoy helping patients and also getting to know them on a deeper level
If you feel called to help others, acupuncture could be a great fit for you. Acupuncturists help their patients on multiple levels and have the opportunity to connect with them more deeply.
Managing pain, reducing anxiety, finding relief from insomnia — these are just a few examples of how acupuncturists can help their patients. And they also can utilize more than just needles in their care.
For instance, acupuncturists can help patients achieve health goals by making dietary recommendations, suggesting lifestyle changes, and, with the appropriate training, prescribing Chinese herbal medicines.
More generally, acupuncturists can serve their patients by simply providing more time and attention. Yes, conventional medical appointments are important, but if you think about it, they’re often quite brief.
Acupuncturists, on the other hand, can take more time to sit and discuss a patient’s health and well-being. And that can be incredibly rewarding for both the acupuncturist and the patient.
2 – The role of acupuncturists is expanding in mainstream healthcare
Acupuncture services are being incorporated into more and more hospitals and primary care clinics. This is an important indication of acupuncture’s growing acceptance within conventional Western healthcare.
These positive developments also extend to the job market. Consider, for example, major healthcare organizations like the following that now employ acupuncturists:
- UCLA Health System
- Mayo Clinic
- Johns Hopkins Health System
- Veterans Health Administration
- Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center
In addition, influential healthcare entities like The Joint Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the American College of Physicians all officially support acupuncture as a viable drug-free option for pain relief.
3 – Have the freedom to create your own career path
Compared to many other healthcare professions, acupuncturists can enjoy more freedom to create a personalized career path.
For example, there’s good news if you have an entrepreneurial spirit: Establishing a private acupuncture practice is a viable and popular option. This also makes it easier to shape your own schedule, create your own work atmosphere, and have more control over your work pace and earnings.
But if running your own practice doesn’t sound appealing, today you actually have more options than ever. I’ve already mentioned the growing opportunities for acupuncturists in mainstream healthcare settings, but here are more specific examples of where you could work:
- Public and private hospitals
- Integrative care clinics
- Chiropractic offices
- Community clinics
- Primary care clinics
- Sports and rehabilitation clinics
- VA medical centers
- Health & fitness centers
- Sports team facilities
- Long-term care facilities
From another perspective, you can also help shape your own career direction by developing a speciality with a certain type of patient population. What are you passionate about? Who do you imagine helping on a daily basis? Here are some possibilities:
- Cancer patients
- Expectant mothers
- Women with fertility issues
- Underserved populations (e.g., people without homes, low-income families)
- Patients undergoing rehabilitation from a stroke, spinal injury, or brain trauma
- People in hospice care
4 – Join a new and promising era in healthcare
As an acupuncturist, you can become part of the exciting changes happening in healthcare. A great example is the movement toward integrative healthcare. This is a patient-centered, team-based approach involving practitioners from various fields working together to help patients.
It’s also an approach that bridges treatments like acupuncture with mainstream Western medicine. That means acupuncturists are increasingly part of healthcare teams that include medical doctors, nurses, chiropractors, massage therapists, physical therapists, and more.
Also, as drug-free approaches to pain relief and overall health improvement become more common, the job opportunities for acupuncturists will continue to grow.
In fact, the demand for acupuncture is increasing as more and more healthcare practitioners — and their patients — seek alternatives to opioids and other drugs for pain management. (A great example of this can be found in acupuncture’s growing use in emergency departments.)
Take the next step and start exploring acupuncture programs
Acupuncturists are becoming more and more valuable in today’s evolving healthcare system. You now have a better understanding of the career advantages to being an acupuncturist. Do the points I’ve made resonate with you? Could acupuncture be the professional fit you’ve been looking for?
If you’re intrigued by the prospect of becoming an acupuncturist, I encourage you to take the next step and start researching acupuncture programs today.
Jessica Frier, DAOM, L.Ac., is dean of the College of Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine at Northwestern Health Sciences University and owner of Birchwood Integrative Care Clinic in Eagan, Minn.