One of the biggest questions prospective acupuncture students ask themselves is: am I ready? There are many facets to this question ranging from mental preparedness, financial ability, and family responsibilities. All of these have to be discussed and weighed. But there’s also a practical, and just as important, area of readiness that needs to be considered: do I meet the academic requirements?
Some students come to me having seen their future date of enrollment 10 years ago and they’ve planned their academic coursework accordingly. Most have not done this, mostly because the opportunity presented itself after college. For those of you who weren’t able to plan so far in advance, I have some information to help guide you through the academic eligibility discussion.The first thing I suggest you do is contact your undergraduate institution(s). Ask them to send you a copy of your transcripts. If you’re like me, you probably really only remember your favorite classes, so it always helps to have a review of the courses that you’ve taken. Most likely, you’ve done more work than you realize, or given yourself credit for. Additionally, I welcome you to send your transcripts to the admissions office as well. An early review allows for more time to plan and I can offer counsel if it’s needed. Knowing where you stand academically helps take away some of mystery and makes the prospect more real, because you know what practical steps can be taken towards realizing your goal.
And, if you’ve read our website, you also know that we’re looking for 19 credits of Humanities study. Former computer science and business majors tend to worry over this, but due to the core curriculum requirements of most Associates and Bachelors degree programs, you have probably already met this requirement. And in all likelihood, your former Biology and Psychology general education courses will fulfill our pre-requisite requirement. You may not remember these non-major courses that you had to take, but you’ve probably taken at least one of them. Yet more reason to send your transcripts early.
Again, academic planning is key to being ‘ready to start.’ Postponement of a dream for a few months while you complete coursework that will only help you succeed once you enroll at AFEA, is not a death-knell. Last year, I spoke with a wonderful woman who was a nurse and eager to transition to non-pharmacological ways of treating her patients’ pain. The timing wasn’t right last year, or this year, but we speak every so often because she knows she’ll be coming to school, she knows she’ll be an acupuncture practitioner. She’s just allowing herself the time to plan for all that that change encompasses.
With that in mind, this week’s post focuses on the NCCAOM exams and the aura of fear that usually surrounds them. The NCCAOM exams are the national board exams for acupuncture and Chinese medicine students. There are four exams: Acupuncture with Point Location, Foundations of Oriental Medicine, Biomedicine, and Chinese Herbology. Most states require successful passage of the first three “modules,” while some require all four in order to become a licensed practitioner.** The fear and concern over passing these exams is understandable, because passing is ultimately the last hurdle to the dream of being an acupuncture practitioner. But I would like to help dispel that fear, for past, present, and future students alike.
Standardized tests exist for many licensed professions. Doctors, nurses, and lawyers all have to take exams to prove their readiness. Remember the SATs and how much fear surrounded those scores? Somehow, these tests reduce our futures to mere numbers that are supposed to speak for us. It’s no wonder then that passing can take on an “all or nothing” quality. In reality, though, the tests are simply part of the regulation process (a rite of passage, so to speak). To keep from letting the “threat” of the exam grow too big, it’s important to keep in mind what the exams are actually testing: how academically prepared you are and how psychologically ready you are.
Passing the NCCAOM exams requires having both the necessary knowledge and having effectively studied. AFEA is a Five Element school and the exams lean heavily on TCM theory. Prospective students always want to make sure that our curriculum provides the knowledge needed to pass a TCM-oriented test. While taking our program in Chinese Herbal Studies helps with this, our Master of Acupuncture curriculum is also continually being refined and updated so that the course in TCM Concepts and the NCCAOM Prep Course teach students to understand the material and how to organize it for later study. Our Western Clinical Science Review course is set up so that students know what and how to study for the Biomedicine exam. And with the precise point location expected of Five Element treatments, it’s really no surprise that the Acupuncture with Point Location exam is one in which our students continually surpass the national average. The information is there, guidance in organizing one’s study time is there.
But testing isn’t just about knowing the material: it’s also about being able to apply it under pressure. Think about the phrase, “grace under pressure.” How many mistakes have you made in the past because you didn’t know the answer, and how many were simple mistakes? Can you stay calm enough so that fear doesn’t block access to all of the information you DO actually possess? When preparing for this sort of exam, figuring out how to deal with the anxiety of the moment should not be an overlooked aspect of preparation.
There’s a certain amount of self-confidence and faith involved in this process. One additional aspect of our curriculum that helps prepare students is the focus on the inner development of the practitioner. The idea behind this is that an effective healer must be healthy in their own body, mind, and spirit before helping others. Having faith in one’s own abilities is a huge component of being a successful student and a successful practitioner. Our students are allowed the time to focus on themselves and be the healthiest they can be when they step into the treatment room. In turn, they should also believe in their knowledge base and that they have the ability to pass their exams. This is very easy to forget in the midst of the worry.
Students sometimes look at me funny when I remind them to get plenty of sleep, to remember to breathe regularly, and not to drink caffeine (or too much liquid in general) before the test. It’s easy to give advice when one isn’t taking the test. But the simple concerns like sleep and proper nutrition are some of the first things we forget when we’re anxious. A quick story for you, a former student of mine once admitted to drinking 5 cans of Red Bull before taking his TOEFL exam. Not only did his hands shake and his concentration nose-dive, but he had to go to the bathroom only half an hour into the four hour test (remember, no bathroom breaks). He couldn’t think straight and he did very poorly. My point: there are very simple things you can do to stay calm and focused so that the test doesn’t beat you. Be practical in your preparation and remember to nourish yourself in the process.
And so, I say again to our recent grads: good luck! We’re still here supporting you. And to our future and current students: you will be ready when the time comes.
**As all states have different laws and rules regarding acupuncture licensing, please review the laws for your state for the most accurate and up-to-date information.
The intensive structure at Academy for Five Element Acupuncture (AFEA) is…unique. You might call it weird; we call it flexible and immersive. Both our Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Studies programs are offered in the intensive format. You already know from our website that the first 2 years of the acupuncture program are made up of 14-18 day intensive sessions, held roughly every 3 to 4 months (Herbal Studies intensives are 4 days each). There are a total of 6 Acupuncture intensive sessions and 5 Herbal Studies intensives. The third year is a clinical residency, which means you have to move to sunny Gainesville, FL for 12 months to complete the program. Simple, right?
But how can you possibly learn everything you need to know to be a competent practitioner in 2 weeks when it takes other schools a semester? This question requires doing a little math in order to explain. Classes at the Academy run from 9am to 6pm. That’s a full 8 hours of class time where you are directly engaged with your instructor. And when we say 2 weeks, we don’t mean Monday thru Friday. We mean 14 to 18 days in total, which includes class on weekends. Believe it or not, when you add up all of the hours spent in class over the course of the 6 intensive sessions that comprise the first 2 years of the program, it equates to the same number of hours that you would have had with a traditional semester schedule.
When we call it an “intensive” session, we mean it. Spending full days in class for so many days in a row completely immerses the student in the material. Your education and training is condensed time-wise, but it is extremely comprehensive in its width and breadth.
And so what happens when the intensive is over? You go home and promptly forget everything you’ve learned, right? No. This is a full-time graduate program, and you’re still in school even if you’re not physically in Gainesville with us. Your syllabus, with all of your reading and homework assignments, is online for you, along with a host of resources, including point location videos, to help you study and stay on track. You’re connected to the Academy as much as you need to be while you’re at home.
But that does not make us an online program. I get asked this question a lot because the flexibility of the intensive format sometimes seems too good to be true. The precise point location expected of Five Element practitioners cannot be taught online. Nor can one begin to grasp the elusive concepts of Five Element theory without someone there to patiently answer the numerous questions coming from our Western brains. All coursework is done in person with a live, human instructor during the intensives. The online academic portal is simply a tool to help you continue to study what you’ve learned in class. It helps keep you connected and present in your studies.
So, yes, AFEA students commute to Gainesville 6 times over the course of the first 2 years of the program, and then return home to continue studying. The beauty of this structure is that it presents you with a lot of information in a shorter period of time. The intersessions then allow you time and space to unpack all of that knowledge. You have the opportunity to sit with it and let it percolate, so that when you come back for the next session, that knowledge has had the chance to become a part of you.
Remember as you think about all of this that studying Five Element acupuncture teaches you a new language and a new way of approaching the world. Your coursework, no matter what the schedule, needs to provide you with a solid foundation to continue strengthening and refining your knowledge all the days of your practice. At the end of your three years of training at AFEA is actually your new beginning as an acupuncture practitioner. And so my question back to you is: are you ready start that journey?
I want to take a few moments to thank everyone who participated in our annual summertime Open House at the end of June. We had a large turnout of prospective students and community members who spent the day learning more about our Master of Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Studies programs. I want to thank the prospective students who came with their families to ask questions and share their interests in becoming practitioners of Chinese medicine. And I want to thank the faculty, current students, and staff who came to share their experiences and offer advice. Everyone contributed to make the day both informative and inspirational.
In reflecting on the excitement generated from this year’s Open House, and thus looking ahead to the start of the new class in August, I can’t help but imagine what the journey for this new class will be like. It’s hard not to wonder considering all of the milestones current classes have reached in the last several weeks. The sense of transition and circularity of life have been extremely strong of late. At the beginning of June, we said good-bye to Classes 24 and 25 as they celebrated their graduation. The last few weeks leading up to graduation went fast and furious as they worked to finish their treatments in the clinic, transition their patients to the interns in Class 26, take final exams, and start packing up their lives in Gainesville. It was hard not to get caught up in the frenzy. The anticipation of finally completing this long-awaited goal was palpable, and there were many conflicting emotions for students and administration alike: happiness and excitement met with sadness at the prospect of saying good-bye and good luck.
In the background, Class 26 completed Level One of their clinical residency, moving on to Level Two. Class 27 finished the second year of their program and started preparing for the start of their clinical residency in September. Class 28 finished the first year of their program. They come back in September for their Year One exams (and exam nerves have definitely already taken hold). Each session has seen the attainment of a new milestone in the journey to becoming an acupuncture practitioner- with all of the conflicting energies and emotions that those transitions bring.
And during those same weeks, my desk was covered in applications from students seeking admission to the new class. The evolution of each cohort, old and new, have been very pronounced: good-byes mingled with hellos. There have been so many endings and beginnings circling us with each week that it’s easy to see how constant change is. One gets almost comfortable with it.
And while the culminations of May and June provided springboards into the future, August and September promise new levels of achievement. As we move past the summer solstice into the second half of the year, we celebrate the current moments while looking ahead to the future. As the Admissions Coordinator, I get to watch where each student begins, and as the Registrar, I get to catalog their growth along the way. The best advice I can possibly give to any student, past, present and future, is to keep a strong hold of the big picture: each pulse taken, each exam, each needle, each patient is part of one single goal. Fears over the first needle quickly turn into confidence with each treatment. So, celebrate today’s achievements, know that tomorrow is coming, because it helps remind you where you came from.
I send much love and many congratulations to all of our students for all of the accomplishments of the last few weeks! Your hard work and courage are truly awe-inspiring. In the meantime, the administration will hold the center, actively preparing for the next milestones, welcoming the changes to come.