Acupuncture or Oriental Medicine

Upon applying to, and selecting an oriental medicine school, aspiring students have several things to consider. Along with examining which school's curriculum, approach and philosophy best suits their interests, they also have to decide whether to pursue a Master's degree in Acupuncture or in Oriental Medicine (which incorporates herbal medicine), the entry-level standard to practice in the U.S.

According to ACAOM, the national accrediting agency for TCM programs in the U.S., Master's of Acupuncture programs must consist of at least:

  • 2016-02-18_one47 semester credits (705 hours) in Oriental medical theory, diagnosis and treatment techniques in acupuncture and related studies;
  • 22 semester credits (660 hours) in clinical training;
  • 30 semester credits (450 hours) in biomedical clinical sciences; and
  • 6 semester credits (90 hours) in counseling, communication, ethics, and practice management.

Master's of Oriental Medicine programs must consist of the above, with an additional 450 hours for herbal studies, 210 hours in herbal clinical training, as well as classes in Western Pharmacology.

Many new students are often on the fence about doing the oriental medicine program because of the added classes, longer time frame, and difficulty in learning hundreds of herb and formula functions. When I started my studies, I had decided to do the Master's in Acupuncture degree because of the added time, cost, and having no interest in using Chinese herbs, despite my love of herbal medicine. I remembered visiting herb shops in Hong Kong and various U.S. Chinatowns and having a heavy heart while browsing through aisles of jars containing dried seahorses or bird's nests. And after reading about endangered or threatened plant and animal species being taken for the illegal Chinese herb trade, I decided that I didn't want to contribute to that in any way.


I've since learned that those plant and animal species are regulated through CITES, or the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora and herbal students are taught substitute herbs. And over the years, I have slowly come around to the study of Chinese herbal medicine and become optimistic that safe and sustainably grown herbs could be grown and provided by companies in the U.S. At the Taoist school that I attended in Honolulu, there were weekend herbal intensives where students would go on herb hikes and learn how to collect and prepare herbs to use at the student clinic. Most, if not all, of these plants were invasive species, so there was no risk of over-harvesting. And later I learned of the Chinese Medicinal Herb Farm in Petaluma, California, a small-scale, organic farm growing Chinese, Ayurvedic, and other Asian medicinal herbs for U.S. herb companies and herbal medicine practitioners. I even considered doing a 9-month apprenticeship there, with the aspiration of someday growing herbs for my practice.

2016-02-18_twoSo now I'm a student of the Oriental Medicine program and I'm seeing the benefits every day of studying herbs -- not only because herbal medicine can treat conditions that acupuncture alone can't, but also because studying herbs means studying OM theory. Without my herb classes, I would have a more difficult time understanding patterns and coming up with diagnoses, both of which are necessary for effectively treating a patient. Proper diagnosis is crucial to writing an herbal formula because one single symptom can change a formula completely. 

I spent this week reviewing videos for H.B. Kim's Integration of Herbal Medicine class, which is meeting again next weekend. As I mentioned in previous posts, this is the herbal board review class for MSOM students and it's definitely the most intellectually stimulating class I've ever had. Every minute spent listening to his herb lectures makes me more confident in my ability to treat patients, more excited to learn herbs, and thankful that I decided to study herbal medicine after all!