Be Well: Working in Wellness: The Chinese Herbal Difference
Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine are among the fastest-growing professions in natural health care today. Learn why Northwestern Health Sciences University is working hard to make a discernible difference in the industry with its leading-edge doctorate program.
Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU) recently rebranded its Doctor of Chinese Medicine degree to Doctor of Acupuncture with a Chinese Herbal Medicine Specialization. The name change is, as the experts put it, a difference with industry implications.
As part of an effort by the national accrediting body to create more standardization of degree names within the industry, Jessica M. Frier, dean of the College of Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine at NWHSU, says there are several benefits to standardization. “There was really no naming consistency at a national level,” she says. “If you look around, you can have a Master’s of Chinese Medicine, a Master’s of Acupuncture, a Master’s of Science and Oriental Medicine, a Master’s of Science and Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.”
That inconsistency in degree names makes it challenging for organizations hiring acupuncturists or for patients looking for a Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner, Frier says, because it’s not clear what training and skills are included in the differently named degrees.
Acupuncture is the medical procedure of inserting needles, and students in a master’s program learn those skills, as do students in the doctorate program, she adds. What differs is that the doctorate program includes more clinical work and advanced study of clinical herbalism.
“The difference between our master’s level, which is an entry level, and our doctorate, which is also considered entry level, is the advanced herbal study. It means they [doctorate grads] have tools that complement primary care, and we belong at that table.” Jessica M. Frier, dean of the College of Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine at Northwestern Health Sciences University
“Our master’s degree will train you to insert needles safely for therapeutic response in the body,” she says. “Now the Doctor of Acupuncture with a Chinese Herbal Medicine Specialization means that you are getting a doctorate in the procedure of acupuncture and the advanced training to prescribe Chinese herbal medicine.
“The difference between our master’s level, which is an entry level, and our doctorate, which is also considered entry level, is the advanced herbal study. It means they have tools that complement primary care, and we belong at that table.”
Everything’s Pointing Up
For Frier, standardizing the name of the doctorate has the built-in plus of elevating the practitioner and the profession. “Having a doctorate does open some additional doors for students who are looking to get hired someplace,” she says. “But there really is no direct correlation to better jobs, more money, or anything like that with the doctorate.”
That is mainly because the great majority of acupuncturists are self-employed. However, she adds, a benefit is that many employers and patients are more interested in the clinical background that is part of the doctorate degree. For practitioners, the doctorate degree also is a confidence builder and can help them build relationships with practitioners from other fields.
“It helps open that door to the conversation around what we can do from an integrative medicine perspective to be part of a patient’s care team,” she says. “We’re not just something complementary at the side; we are an active, integrated member of that care team. That’s the biggest thing that title does.”
Acupuncture has been trending up for years, but in the COVID era, interest in acupuncture has surged—both as a career choice and as a treatment for pain and other issues.
“We have seen an exponential growth as far as clinics opening, students enrolling and graduating and just public demand for acupuncture,” says Frier. “Acupuncture seems to be thriving, especially post-COVID when people were looking for alternatives to Western care. They either couldn’t get Western care or they needed additional options.”
There are more than 10 million acupuncture treatments in the United States each year, according to New York University’s Langone Orthopedic Hospital. That growth is expected to continue for years to come. By 2028, NWHSU predicts at least an 11 percent growth in career opportunities for those in the acupuncture profession.
Learn more about the transformation of the Doctorate of Chinese Medicine to the Doctorate of Acupuncture with a Chinese Herbal Medicine Specialization and other acupuncture programs at NWHSU.