The acupuncture license. It’s the last official hurdle to being able to practice this beautiful medicine. You’ve finished your intensives; the clinical marathon has been run; your corequisite classes are done. And yes, no more studying for your national exams because you’ve passed! Now the only thing you’re waiting on is your state acupuncture regulatory board to review your application and send you your official license.
Compared to the three years it’s taken to get to this point, waiting on your license should be the easiest step. It is after all, the culmination of all of the work you’ve been doing. Your schoolwork has been laying the foundation for this from the first day you enrolled. And yet, the waiting makes it one of the hardest steps. The trying is over, and there’s nothing you can do until they approve your application. In the back of your mind it’s hard not to worry that you’ve missed something. And with each state’s varying rules and regulations, it’s easy to see why that worry is reasonable.
As most of you know (or are becoming aware), acupuncture laws differ from state to state. No two states that regulate the practice of acupuncture have the same criteria for issuing licenses. Along with meeting accreditation standards, your program also has to meet the requirements for the state where it is located. And that doesn’t mean it meets the requirements for the state next door. If you move after graduation, or find yourself moving years down the road, you want to make sure your training is, shall we say, portable. It’s hard to plan for a possibility 10 years down the road, but there are steps you can take to put yourself in good standing.
Step 1: Create a list of possible states where you might want to practice. Will you return to the state you currently live in after graduation, or will you be going some place new? Write down all of the possibilities.
Step 2: Research the rules and regulations of acupuncture practice for each state on your list. Government websites can be confusing, so don’t rely solely on the internet. When in doubt, find the number for the acupuncture representative at that state’s Department of Health. Talk to them.
Step 3: Compare your results. Are the states similar in hours required? Do they have special western science requirements? And here’s the one of the biggest difference between states: do they require herbal training?
Step 4: Compare the strictest state you’ve found with the schools that you’re looking at. Apply accordingly!
With the early preparation done, there’s one more piece of advice that I want to pass along: once you’re enrolled in a program take advantage of every class that it has to offer. Even if you’re not initially in love with the topic, you never know when that knowledge will prove useful (in your practice and in getting licensed). One of the most common questions students ask me is whether or not they should also enroll in the Chinese Herbal Studies program. They hear the calling to practice acupuncture, but they’re not quite so sure that that calling includes herbal studies. My advice is always to enroll. From a purely practical stand-point, you might need the training one day if you’re moving to a new state. Your home state might pass a law requiring training while you’re in school, after you’ve done your initial research. Enrolling is the best way to be prepared. Besides, you might also fall in love with herbs!
I’ve talked to a number of practitioners who want to move to Florida and realized that they can’t become licensed here without herbal training. It’s easy to tell yourself when you’re in school that you want to focus on acupuncture and that you can always come back to study herbs. But when you’re on the verge of that move and suddenly find that you have to wait, that earlier decision can become very frustrating.
Every student gets to a point with the licensing application process when they’re tired of jumping through bureaucratic hoops. And sometimes extra classes can feel like one more hoop, but it’s always best to position yourself as strongly as possible. In the end, when you’re holding your first license in your hand, you’ll know it was all worth it.
Congratulations to our most recent licensees! Well done!
Our Twitter feed this week asked the following question: “What was your most memorable acupuncture treatment?” I had to sit with this question for a bit to think about my most memorable treatment, and then after awhile I realized that not only were there just too many to pick one, the reasons they were memorable were too different.
Some of my treatments have provoked immediate responses. For instance, there was my first treatment, where they were testing to see if I was a Fire CF. When my student practitioner needled the points at my wrist it felt like a burst of bubbles rushed into my hands, kind of like how Alka-Seltzer feels when you drink it. I was so moved that I actually started singing the commercial jingle. Then, I starting laughing so hard that I couldn’t stop. I made the supervisor on duty and my intern start laughing, until they realized I couldn’t stop. When I finally calmed down, there was an amazing sense of sadness underneath the laughter. Sadness I hadn’t been able to acknowledge and wouldn’t have been able to without the laughter (or the treatment). I don’t know if it’s the laughter or the sadness that I remember most. But it was definitely a memorable treatment.
Other treatments were memorable because of specific points. The first time I had points on my feet needled definitely stands out. Foot points are, well, more tender, but it wasn’t the tenderness that I remember, it was the strength of the energy that rushed through my feet as a result. The power took my breath away. Then there was the first time I had the point “Amidst Elegance” needled. I felt my own strength and a clearly defined sense of self. I don’t think I’ve ever been able to sit up that straight and that calmly before. And then, I remember going in one day and talking about a need for balance. They needled a point called “Equilibrium Middle,” which is located behind the knee. I remember thinking, “All that time I’ve spent seeking balance and it’s been behind my knee the whole time. ” Everyone in the room got a kick out of that escaping thought.
Perhaps the most memorable points have been points needled on my head. It’s like being transported through and into the universe. I don’t know where I go, but I try to hold onto the sensation and guide myself back to it in times of stress. I have known for awhile that acupuncture was helping me feel better, but I don’t think I fully recognized how powerful just a few acupuncture points could be until I had head points needled.
In the end, it doesn’t seem to be about one treatment or one point. Particularly with Five Element Acupuncture, the succession and progression of treatments is the key to achieving balance and health. The immediate sensations are wonderful, but the changes that occur and that become possible because of the movement of energy are more important. In my mind, none of this would be possible without a deep sense of trust between the patient and the practitioner. If you don’t trust your practitioner, you won’t go back. And the rapport between patient and practitioner is essential in being able to get at the root of the problem. Those of you already being treated know this. Those of you being treated in our student clinic know how amazingly supportive and sacred the clinic space is, how our interns and supervisors focus their intentions so carefully on you.
And so, if I was really forced to pick a most memorable treatment, it would actually have to be my TD, the two-hour Traditional Diagnosis. That’s right, my intake, where there were no needles, no points, just me and my practitioner, talking about my health and my life. I’d never felt so heard in my life by a medical professional. More than anything, that moment stands out because it was the beginning of an amazing journey towards health and well-being.
So, I’m going to rephrase our Twitter question and turn it back to you: what makes acupuncture memorable for you? Is it your practitioner, the immediate sensations, the way you feel three weeks later, the names of the points? If you tell me that it’s all of the above, maybe you should consider becoming a practitioner.
One of the conversations that I often have with prospective students goes something like this:
Student: “I’m a more mature student than you’re probably used to. I did my degree a long, long time ago in a field completely unrelated to science or acupuncture. This is really going to be a second (or third) career for me. In some ways it feels like a whole new life.”
Me: “That’s actually not that unusual. Most of our students are embarking on a second or third career. They didn’t know they could study acupuncture, or they didn’t know they wanted to until after they did their initial degree. You’ll actually fit in much better than you think.”
Student: “Really? So I won’t be the old student in the corner? “
Me: “Absolutely not. Besides, there’s really no place to hide in our classes. You’ll be surprised how everyone from different age groups and different walks of life come together . Your shared passion for Five Element Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine is really what matters most .”
I would never downplay a student’s uniqueness. In fact, our students are some of the most unique individuals I have ever met, and each cohort is colored and shaped by their different backgrounds. But the fact of the matter is, age, whether you’re in your twenties or early fifties, will not separate you or make you different from the group. Your lack of western science or eastern philosophy courses will not hinder your application or your participation in class. And your previous work experience, whether it be finance, sales, or education, will not hamper your progress as a practitioner of Five Element Acupuncture. What makes an applicant or a student unique is their passion for this medicine and their desire to help others heal. The rest, in some ways, is simply demographic information.
That being said, your experience matters quite a bit. Your educational experience, job history, and the activities you have invested yourself in, contribute to who you are. They’ve helped to shape you and they have brought you to the point of researching acupuncture schools. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about what makes a good admissions essay, and how your story is important to tell. That story comes from the life you’ve led, and you would be surprised to learn how often backgrounds outside of health care and western science lead to acupuncture.
So let me help put you more at ease. You’re nervous enough about going back to school, so don’t let insecurities about age or past careers become an obstacle. Our students range in age from mid-twenties to early sixties (that’s right, I said early sixties). I am very inspired by those students embarking on a new career “late” in life. One student told me that she just couldn’t spend the rest of her life retired. There was still too much time left; there was still more to achieve, more to give; and she wasn’t going to surrender to old age. Apparently, education and a new career are a great way to “retire.”
Did you just discover Chinese medicine and acupuncture? Or have you been secretly cultivating knowledge for the last decade (or two)? Our students come from both camps. They’ve worked in different health care fields, they are artists, businessmen and women, accountants, computer programmers, military officers, writers, teachers……The list goes on. My point is, your lack of previous medical or scientific coursework isn’t the obstacle you might think it is. Your lack of knowledge in acupuncture, yoga, herbs, qigong, etc, is also not a huge hurdle. You are, after all, looking to go back to school. You are about to add centuries worth of knowledge to your life.
Our students are lifelong learners and they continue to invest in themselves and in others. I’m going to resort to a platitude here, but it’s true, age is what you make of it. How you choose to expand your life sphere is up to you. So, my point is, embrace what you’ve been and who you are. We’re going to.