What to Look for in an Acupuncture Program: 12 Must-Ask Questions for Prospective Students
To become a licensed acupuncturist, you’ll first need to attain a minimum of a master’s degree from an acupuncture program. But which program should you choose? In the following, we’ll help you answer that question by exploring what to look for in an acupuncture program.
The demand for acupuncture is growing and its use in mainstream healthcare is becoming more and more common. That’s why it’s such an exciting time to join this expanding field.
How well an acupuncture program prepares you to be a successful healthcare professional will depend a lot on your learning experience. Let’s dive into the questions you should be asking as you consider programs.
1. How does the program prepare you to be successful in today’s modern healthcare system?
Rooted in Chinese medicine, acupuncture treats illness and improves health by stimulating prescribed points on the body through the use of sterilized needles or similar techniques that involve heat, pressure, or electric current.
Understanding the Chinese, or East Asian, perspective of the body is critical to becoming a successful practitioner. However, that’s not enough. To be an effective acupuncturist in today’s modern healthcare environment, you also need to understand the Western, biomedical-based perspective.
That’s why it’s so important to attend an acupuncture program that makes a concerted effort to integrate both the East Asian and Western perspectives in your education.
To understand what that can look like, here are some features of the Master of Acupuncture program at Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU):
- Students complete core courses in the theory and practice of acupuncture from an East Asian perspective, while also learning about modern research that supports this perspective.
- Students take expanded topics courses in Western, biomedical subjects such as anatomy and pathophysiology.
- Students learn how to understand and, in essence, “translate” East Asian practices and diagnoses into biomedical terms, both for patients and for fellow healthcare practitioners from other fields.
- Students gain clinical experience in a wide range of modern healthcare settings. (See No. 2 below for more details.)
2. Does the program provide a variety of clinical experiences?
Be aware that some acupuncture programs may only expose you to one clinical environment. Alternatively, other programs offer an array of hands-on clinical experiences.
For example, NWHSU provides one of the most robust clinical internship programs in the country for acupuncture students.
Why is it so critical to have a variety of clinical experiences as a student? Consider the following reasons:
You’re exposed to different healthcare environments.
Acupuncture is now commonly administered in a multitude of healthcare settings. How ready you’ll be to practice in these settings will depend heavily on the diversity of your clinical experiences as a student.
Also, by actually practicing in a variety of places, you’ll be able to better understand the kind of environment you may want to work in once you graduate and enter the workforce.
Then there’s this possibility as well: The connections you make with practitioners at your internship sites can lead to job opportunities.
At NWHSU, thanks to university partnerships with numerous healthcare organizations in the Twin Cities Metro Area and beyond, students can gain real-life clinical experience in places such as:
- Hospitals (five different potential rotations)
- Community clinics
- Integrative clinics
- Speciality clinics that see specific patient populations
- Long-term care facilities
In fact, the HPC provides an incredible opportunity for students interested in specialized areas of acupuncture like sports medicine and injury rehabilitation. Students can learn about and practice sports-related acupuncture on athletes, both amateur and professional, as well as work with students from other disciplines such as massage therapy and chiropractic. (See more on working with other disciplines below.)
You’re exposed to different patient populations.
Acupuncturists can treat a broad spectrum of patients. Some find that specializing in a specific patient population is right for them.
But as a student, how can you know if a specialization path may be of interest to you? Your clinical experiences can play a pivotal role—if you’re exposed to a variety of patient populations.
At NWHSU, for instance, you have the opportunity to work with many different patient types. Here are some examples:
- Cancer patients
- Pregnant women
- Women with fertility issues
- Underserved populations (e.g., the homeless, low-income families)
- Patients undergoing rehabilitation from a stroke, spinal injury, or brain trauma
- People in hospice care
See former acupuncture student Christopher Johnson talk about the positive internship experiences he had through NWHSU. (Dr. Johnson is now a practicing healthcare provider.)
You’re exposed to different healthcare disciplines.
Healthcare as we know it is changing. We’re entering an exciting new era with the advent of integrative healthcare, a patient-centered, team-based approach involving practitioners from various fields working together to help patients.
Increasingly, acupuncturists today routinely communicate with—and in some cases work alongside—healthcare professionals like chiropractic doctors, massage therapists, nutritionists, physical therapists, medical doctors, nurses, and more.
That’s why it’s so important to have an educational experience that prepares you for integrative healthcare.
Why NWHSU’s focus on health sciences matters. NWHSU is 100% focused on health science as it trains the next generation of healthcare professionals—not only acupuncturists but also:
- Massage therapists
- Nutrition experts
- Allied health professionals such as medical assistants, lab scientists, and radiation therapists
Students study alongside healthcare-focused students from various disciplines. They even get opportunities to practice with, for example, chiropractor and massage therapy students in our on-campus clinics—plus work in multidisciplinary healthcare environments at area hospitals and clinics (see above).
By the time an acupuncture student graduates from NWHSU, they’re more than prepared to practice in their field. They have a significant grasp of other healthcare perspectives and are better prepared to practice an integrative healthcare approach.
3. How hands-on is the acupuncture program?
In theory, all acupuncture programs are designed to ultimately enable you to apply the hands-on techniques of acupuncture to patients. But you should be aware that programs can vary widely in the amount—and quality—of the hands-on experiences they offer.
Find out when you’ll begin using your hands in the classroom, for example. NWHSU starts students out on day one locating and palpating parts of the body on other people. That’s just one small but significant indicator of the intensive, hands-on education we offer.
In fact, over the course of the eight trimesters (2⅔ years) it takes to complete our Master of Acupuncture program, students become progressively more comfortable, confident, and, most importantly, competent in administering acupuncture to patients.
That’s largely because we have designed a carefully structured path for students to gradually gain more and more hands-on experience, first at on-campus clinics under NWHSU staff supervision, then in area clinics, hospitals, and other specialized healthcare establishments.
4. Is the school accredited?
You’ll want to attend an acupuncture program that meets official standards established within the acupuncture profession. Be sure the program you choose is designated as an accredited acupuncture program by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM).
The ACAOM has established rigorous standards that accredited programs must meet. These standards help ensure that students will be prepared to pass national board exams, meet state licensure requirements, and be effective healthcare professionals in the field of acupuncture.
Keep in mind that students who attend accredited programs and institutions also have access to federal financial aid, scholarships, and military benefits.
NWHSU’s master’s level acupuncture program is accredited under applicable Master’s Degree Standards by ACAOM.
5. Who are the faculty and what are their qualifications?
As you explore acupuncture programs, try to gain a solid understanding of the faculty who could be teaching you. In fact, make the effort—if possible—to get to know your potential instructors before you commit to a program.
Ideally, you want an accessible, full-time faculty with flexible office hours who are dedicated to helping you succeed.
Also, be sure to look at their qualifications.
At NWHSU, for instance, our faculty have earned degrees in acupuncture and Chinese medicine from respected institutions around the world. Students learn from experienced, well-qualified professionals who are advancing the field of acupuncture and Chinese medicine.
NWHSU faculty highlights include:
- Insight and experience to prepare students to be successful acupuncturists in today’s modern healthcare system.
- A deep knowledge of the East Asian perspective, which is crucial to developing a foundation for practicing acupuncture effectively.
- A 4:1 faculty-to-student ratio, which gives students the advantage of a close-knit educational environment where small group and one-on-one learning opportunities are the norm.
6. Does the program prepare you for the business administration side of acupuncture?
Using practical business skills can play an important part of an acupuncturist’s daily routine. As you look at programs, you may want to investigate what opportunities you’ll have to learn, for instance, how to establish and maintain an acupuncture practice.
At NWHSU, the practice management courses offered do more than address general business topics like accounting, budgeting, and insurance reimbursement; they involve exploring these and related areas within the specific context of an acupuncture practice.
On a related note, whether you’re self-employed or work for someone else, knowing how to navigate an electronic health records (EHR) system will be a valuable skill to have. NWHSU’s acupuncture program was one of the first to incorporate an EHR system into its curriculum.
Watch former NWHSU student Stephanie Hylla discuss how she chose to become an acupuncturist and also why she enjoys running her own practice.
7. How flexible is the program?
If you require greater flexibility with your schedule, be sure to inquire if a program will work with you to design a schedule that fits your life.
At NWHSU, your academic advisor is committed to working with your individual schedule needs to help you meet your educational goals.
Note that program start dates are not only in the fall but also in the winter and summer.
Special note on flexibility in instruction and hybrid learning
As you’re researching acupuncture programs, find out how courses and labs are taught. This will vary from program to program and is an especially important consideration in a COVID-19—and post-COVID-19 world.
NWHSU offers a carefully designed hybrid learning approach in which students can conveniently view and review pre-recorded lectures and other video tools to reinforce their learning.
More specifically, students benefit from Moodle, Panopto, and other technology that helps create an exceptional online learning experience, one that’s also highly interactive.
Importantly, the online learning features also help prepare students for the hands-on labs and related courses they take on campus. See No. 3 above for more information on the importance of hands-on education.
Also, check out this informative video for details on the benefits of NWHSU’s hybrid learning program for acupuncture students:
8. What’s the school like in terms of its facilities and location?
When you attend an acupuncture program, you should also consider the school or university itself. What’s it like? Where is it located? And what does it offer to help on your path to becoming an acupuncturist?
To help understand what a school can offer, here are some highlights of NWHSU:
The educational facilities. Although class sizes are relatively small, NWHSU is a large facility with on-campus clinics, technology-enhanced classrooms, and an extensive research library.
In addition, NWHSU also provides acupuncture students a medical school level of education through exceptional lab resources such as our recently renovated gross anatomy lab. NWHSU is actually one of only a few acupuncture programs in the country that offers gross anatomy with a cadaver lab option.
This can be tremendously helpful in understanding the complexities of the body and in becoming a deeply knowledgeable acupuncturist.
The campus itself. The NWHSU campus comprises 25 scenic acres. Here students can enjoy the natural surroundings outside and also take advantage of the many campus facilities we have for studying, socializing, or a little of both.
The overall location. NWHSU is located in Bloomington, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and part of the Twin Cities Metro Area, a region that consistently ranks in the top ten most livable cities in the U.S.
Students can enjoy restaurants, culture, hundreds of miles of biking and walking trails, plus a full city experience in a place that still maintains a community feel.
The region is actually a great place to both live and practice as a professional. For example, the Twin Cities is a progressive healthcare innovation hub, the nearby Mayo Clinic in Rochester has been ranked as the No. 1 hospital for five years in a row, and the state of Minnesota frequently shows up on various lists for its exceptional healthcare.
9. What student services are offered?
Keep in mind that being a student involves more than completing assignments and attending classes. Make sure to explore how a given school or university can help you make the most of your student experience. What opportunities are there to get involved more deeply with the student community? What kind of student services does the school you’re looking at offer?
At NWHSU, for example, the Office of Student Affairs offers a wide range of programs and services that not only enhance your student experience but also help you prepare for your career.
Here are highlights:
Student clubs and organizations. NWHSU has over 50 clubs and organizations available that cover a wide range of interests, including Acupuncture Club, which provides students a chance to learn interesting insights on acupuncture beyond what’s taught in class.
Student Senate. By participating in the Student Senate, students can help determine how they experience life at NWHSU. They also serve as a liaison between the student body and the larger community, helping to plan student and community events.
Career Services. Students can, for instance, receive one-on-one career counseling; check out career fairs; attend workshops to prepare for job interviews; and search for job opportunities more efficiently with the members-only job platform Handshake.
Counseling Center. Students have access to no-cost mental health counseling, both on campus and online.
Alumni Services. Alumni can continue to look to NWHSU for support with career development after graduation. Plus, they can stay up-to-date on continuing education opportunities and keep connected to fellow acupuncture alumni around the world. Alumni even have access to healthcare through the De Rusha Clinic services.
10. Does the school offer related programs in herbal medicine to deepen your education and credentials?
Herbal medicine also plays a significant role in Chinese medicine. If you’re interested in augmenting your acupuncture skills with expertise in herbal medicine, you should explore schools that offer related options.
For example, NWHSU also provides a Doctor of Acupuncture with a Chinese Herbal Medicine Specialization (D.Ac) option for more extensive training and education in herbal medicine and related areas.
NWHSU actually has one of the largest herbal dispensaries in the Midwest. There are work study positions available at the dispensary and students also have opportunities for specific herbal medicine internships.
11. How much will the program cost?
This question should encompass not only tuition, fees, and supplies but also all the other expenses that will be involved in attending school. For example, what will your housing be? How will you get to school? And what will the expenses be related to that travel?
Make sure you incorporate financial concerns into your search early on. The best place to start is with a school’s financial aid specialists.
Finally, here’s an important caveat as you research acupuncture programs: Don’t simply look for the lowest cost. Think about what the tuition is worth in relation to what the program provides. You want a program that empowers you to enter the job market as a confident, well-prepared acupuncturist ready to create a career path that’s right for you.
12. How can I learn more about the school?
You’re investing in your future when you enroll in an acupuncture program. So, it’s well worth your time to seize the opportunities you have to better understand the program you’re considering. Does it provide convenient ways for you to do that?
NWHSU puts on multiple admissions events a year for prospective students, in addition to virtual events. You can also schedule a campus tour, in person or virtually, and set up phone call appointments to talk to an admission counselor and a current student.
What should your next step be?
You’ve just gotten a lot of helpful insights on what to look for in an acupuncture program. This is the perfect time to take the next step toward a rewarding career in healthcare as an acupuncturist.
Contact NWHSU today to learn more about our acupuncture and Chinese medicine programs.