Poking 101: The Mysteries of Acupuncture School

March 23, 2012

Acupuncture 101

There is somewhat of a mystique around dubbing oneself “an acupuncture student.” At parties it makes you interesting and different. In intellectual settings it makes you have to work 10 times harder to convince someone that you know how to use your brain. In general, it makes you party to a bevy of questions: So what is this acupuncture school thing anyway? Is it a certificate program? Do you do anything besides play with needles? How come it’s 3 years later and you’re still not done?

  1. So what is this acupuncture school thing anyway?

At face value, acupuncture school seems to involve spending a lot of time with a disproportionately large number of people who wear VibramFiveFingers shoes and eat chia seeds. But that’s from an insider’s perspective. There are very few ‘normal’ individuals (who aren’t spouses, parents, siblings or otherwise connected to an acupuncture student) who seem to have any clue what it is or what it entails. At best, they envision it somewhat like Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I take this as somewhat of a compliment- we do cover herbology, after all- and getting through Hogwarts was no piece of cake. At worst, however, it seems to be envisioned as a weekend seminar with a couple of packets of fluffy reading and a box of needles for us to take home. Even I am guilty of this misconception; I recall, with irony, the sneer I generated when my acupuncturist, on my first visit, suggested I might wind up at acupuncture school INSTEAD of following through on my rigid medical school path.  I’ve since come around. Maybe you will too.

2.   Is it a certificate program?

To be blunt, no. It is a graduate school. At the end, I get a Master’s degree. After that, I take several lengthy board exams to become nationally certified and then I get licensed by my particular state’s board of medicine.

3.    Do you do anything besides play with needles?

Amazingly, yes. While we do play with needles (sometimes when we’re not supposed to), the study of acupuncture is so much more. To illustrate this, I will list some of the many courses I have taken during the program: Living Anatomy, Point Location I, Point Location II, Chinese Medical Theory I, Chinese Medical Theory II,  The Study of Classical Chinese Texts, Microsystems of Acupuncture, Etiology and Pathology III, Pharmacopeia I, Western Pathology IV, Diagnostic Skills, Western Nutrition, Eastern Nutrition, and the highly exotic Shakuju Therapy. And this only scratches the surface of understanding this medicine. I’ve met many people who are amazed that there are more than three books on the subject- there are thousands of years worth of texts. That’s a lot of  books I haven’t read yet.

We read books!

4.    How come it’s three years later and you’re still not done?

Although I frequently find myself asking the same thing, there is just too much material to go any faster. Actually, according to my FAFSA, I’ve been in school full time x 2. Acupuncture school is (at least) 3 years, all year, 5 days a week with 8 semesters total.  And 150 hours of apprenticeship. And 630 hours of clinic internship. And then there are all those books to read.

In the end, it’s a lot of work. And it’s worth it, despite all the questions. Actually, I like the questions. I don’t like the assumptions. For example, you’ve probably already made the assumption that I own a pair of FiveFingers shoes. I don’t. But I do like chia seeds.

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