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What is the difference between Doctor of Acupuncture, Licensed Acupuncturist and Dry Needling?

In the state of Massachusetts, the standard license to practice acupuncture is that of a Licensed Acupuncturist. The following is a timeline on how one become's a Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc)

  • First, the individual must complete a Master's program in Acupuncture or Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. This is typically a 3-4 year program (all year).

  • Upon completion of the program the individual has obtained a Master of Acupuncture (MAc) or Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (MAOM)

  • The individual is then eligible to become a Board Certified AOM Practitioner through the NCCAOM (National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine). This process requires 3-4 proctored board examinations.

  • Once the individual has passed the national board examinations, they may register for licensure through the Massachusetts Board of Medicine, to be able to use the title Licensed Acupuncturist (LAc) & practice in the state. Each state varies on specific requirements and fees.

  • The last piece is keeping up with Continued Education (CEU's) for the state of MA & the NCCAOM, which are required every 2 and 4 years, respectively.

Phew! Now that you're a Licensed Acupuncturist, you can start practicing or you can continue on to a Doctoral program!

That's what I did.

I enrolled with the Pacific College of Health and Science and completed my Doctorate in 3 years, which landed me with the title Doctor of Acupuncture (DAc). There are many reasons why someone may choose to continue their education after their Master's. I wanted to be able to take a more integrated approach to my practice, to be able to communicate with and clearly understand Western Physicians, and to ultimately be able to provide well rounded care to my patients.

On to Dry Needling.

Dry needling is a treatment that providers use for pain and movement issues associated with myofascial trigger points. Some AOM practitioners have really strong opinions on dry needling. I do not. I see the benefit in using it, but I also think it's important to educate and differentiate between the education of a Licensed Acupuncturist and a practitioner who learns dry needling, and the difference between Acupuncture and dry needling.

A trained professional, such as a Physical Therapist (who are highly educated and incredibly valuable healthcare professionals) may perform dry needling. Their training to become a Physical Therapist is extensive. The training to learn how to dry needle is a minimum of 24 hours of face-to-face dry needling course study. Dry needling must be performed in a manner that is consistent with generally accepted standards of practice, including sterile needle procedures and the standards of the CDC.

There is no use or claim to practice acupuncture, there is no use of acupuncture or Traditional Chinese Medicine theories, there is no use of meridian acupoints and terminology, there is no use of acupuncture diagnosis like tongue or pulse, and there is no claim to stimulate auricular or distal acupuncture points.

Dry needling and Acupuncture are completely different treatments, and offer different benefits to those seeking.

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