How to become an acupuncturist: qualifications and skills
Updated 29 January 2023
If you're interested in wellbeing and alternative medicine, a career as an acupuncturist could be perfect for you. Acupuncture is a treatment derived from ancient Chinese medicine, which uses fine needles on different areas of the body to treat or prevent certain conditions and complaints. A career as an acupuncturist can be rewarding, with plenty of opportunities to work in private practice or on a self-employed basis, though there are certain qualifications and skills required. In this article, we explain how to become an acupuncturist, including education and training, while also exploring the duties and skills of acupuncturists.
What is an acupuncturist?
An acupuncturist is a health care worker, who specialises in using needles and other tools to treat a variety of different conditions for patients. Acupuncturists can treat both physical and psychological conditions using the technique, and as such, acupuncture is a holistic treatment. Based on ancient Chinese practices, in use for more than 2,000 years, acupuncture involves inserting fine needles into strategic parts of the skin throughout the body. The needles help to relieve pressure in the areas they're inserted and subsequently reduce pain. Acupuncture can also treat psychological conditions by relieving stress and tension.
Acupuncturists work closely with patients to understand their complaints, diagnose their conditions and implement a course of treatment to relieve or reduce their symptoms. The role requires in-depth knowledge of herbal medicine and alternative treatments. It also requires the ability to identify the most suitable course of treatment to help a patient improve their health and wellbeing.
How to become an acupuncturist
If you're interested in learning how to become an acupuncturist, follow the steps below. Acupuncturists have a high level of qualifications, skills and knowledge and to become one requires dedication and a particular skill set. Key steps include:
1. Earn a degree in a relevant subject
Most acupuncturists start by earning a bachelor's degree in a related field. Subjects that could be useful for starting a career in acupuncture include biology, anatomy, physiology, or even nutrition. Any subject that provides you with a detailed understanding of the workings of the human body can be a starting point for pursuing a career as an acupuncturist.
2. Complete an accredited acupuncture training course
To qualify as an acupuncturist, after obtaining your degree, you undergo specialist training in acupuncture from an accredited professional body. The accreditation organisation for acupuncture is the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board (BAAB). Make sure the organisation approves your acupuncture course before embarking on your training. BAAB accredited courses include a minimum of 400 hours in a clinical setting and 200 hours of taking personal responsibility for the treatment management of patients.
If you're already a qualified physician or health care professional, you can convert to an acupuncture specialism by taking a course through the British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS). BMAS members are health care professionals who deliver acupuncture therapies in their professional practice.
3. Register with a professional body and local authority
Once you've completed your BAAB approved course in acupuncture, you can apply to join the British Acupuncture Council. Membership provides you with professional support, recognition for GP referrals, access to professional development programmes and procedures and guidance to ensure you follow best practices in your work as an acupuncturist.
If you're setting up your own practice or becoming a self-employed acupuncturist, you're also required to register with your local authority. Local authority registration involves providing details about yourself and your practice premises, undertaking the relevant checks and, if necessary, paying a registration fee. The local authority may want to check that you're operating safely, including assessing any equipment and ensuring your working conditions are hygienic and prevent the spread of disease.
4. Find a job in acupuncture
Once you've finished your training, you're free to apply for roles as an acupuncturist. You may choose to apply for jobs in private practice, set up your own acupuncture clinic or work by yourself as a self-employed acupuncturist. Once you're qualified, there are numerous paths you can take. Junior roles may involve shadowing more senior acupuncturists before you start to take on your own patients.
Key skills for acupuncturists
Aside from the technical knowledge, skills and training you receive as part of your studies towards becoming an acupuncturist, there are many other skills that can help you to pursue this career path. Some of the key skills for working as an acupuncturist are as follows:
Strong communication skills: Communicating with patients is a key part of the acupuncturist's job. Good listening skills and excellent verbal communication can help you to understand patients better, diagnose issues and recommend the best course of treatment.
Empathy: Developing a sense of empathy with patients can help you to appreciate their situation and treat them with sensitivity and respect. It can help to create a relaxed environment where patients feel at ease.
Organisation and time management: When you're treating patients all day, it's essential to ensure you remain organised and find ways to stick to a schedule, so appointments run on time.
Problem-solving: Problem-solving skills can be useful for acupuncturists. Acupuncturists with strong problem-solving skills may find it easier to diagnose conditions and suggest the most effective course of treatment, including recommending other alternative treatments or herbal remedies.
Business skills: One of the main avenues to establishing a career as an acupuncturist is to start your own practice. Establishing a successful practice requires business skills, so you may want to seek training or professional development in business management.
Main duties of acupuncturists
Most of an acupuncturist's work includes close contact with patients, consulting, diagnosing and treating conditions. A summary of the main duties involved in the role are as follows:
Consulting with patients: The first step in treating a patient involves carrying out a consultation to learn about the patient's medical history and current complaints. During the consultation process, it's important to listen attentively to the patient, put them at ease and address any concerns they may have.
Diagnosing conditions: After consulting a patient and learning about their complaints, the next step for an acupuncturist is diagnosis. This informs the type of treatment and any other course of action for you or the patient to take.
Administering acupuncture treatments: The main duty of an acupuncturist is to administer acupuncture treatments, inserting fine needles into the skin at particular locations and intervals to stimulate energy flow, relieve pressure and trigger the body's own healing response.
Administering other treatments: In addition to the traditional acupuncture treatment with needles, acupuncturists may treat patients with rubber balls, pellets, supplements, seeds and cups. They may also create herbal remedies for patients to take as part of a treatment plan.
Assessing patient progress: Through regular follow-up appointments and treatments, acupuncturists keep track of patients' progress and review and adjust their treatment accordingly.
Developing your acupuncture business: If you run your own acupuncture practice, one of your key duties is to maintain and grow the business. You may do this by gaining new patients or diversifying your available treatments and remedies.
Pursuing professional development opportunities: A responsible, professional acupuncturist takes the time and effort to stay up-to-date on the latest developments in the discipline. Where possible, it's important to attend training and keep improving your knowledge and skills.
Related: How to become an aromatherapist
Acupuncturist average salaries
The national average salary for an acupuncturist is £33,119 per year. Salaries can vary according to your experience and location, with acupuncturists in London averaging a salary of £35,879 per year, while in Middlesbrough, the average salary is £23,687 per year. As a self-employed acupuncturist, your earnings depend on the number of patients you're able to treat and your rates.
Acupuncturist career progression
There's no strictly defined career progression pathway for acupuncturists, and much of your progression depends on your own professional reputation and business skills. You may choose to establish your own acupuncture practice, in which case you can increase your earnings by gaining more patients. The success of the business depends on your own ability to market your services, and where possible, expand your operation, including hiring more staff where necessary.
Additional opportunities for acupuncturists to increase their earnings include teaching, supervising students, conducting research or writing about acupuncture. You may also decide to study further specialisms to diversify your skill set and offer alternative therapies to patients.
Please note that none of the companies and organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
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