Educational Standards in Acupuncture: A Student's Perspective
By Charlice Hurst
How Well Does Acupuncture Work?
As a first-year student of Oriental medicine, I am new to the debate over educational standards for entry-level acupuncturists.
I can appreciate the concern that our current programs are not adequate to prepare safe and effective practitioners in this age of integrated medicine, yet the arguments, articles and editorials I've read have focused rather narrowly on increasing the number of hours as a solution. To protect the interests of students, our profession and the public, a broader range of approaches to raising the bar in Oriental medicine education should be as central to the discussion as the required length of schooling.
Already, we attend school full-time for three to four years to attain a degree (a master's of science) that takes only one to two years to complete in other fields. Unlike most graduate programs, there are very few forms of financial aid other than loans available to Oriental medicine students. Our schooling is at least as expensive as that for other types of health professionals, including MDs, who have the benefit of access to extensive public and private funding for their education. If the number of hours is raised for entry level in our profession, it would stretch students' already limited resources and interfere with their ability to concentrate on a full-time course of study. In the long run, it could also negate the much-vaunted cost-effectiveness of acupuncture and increase obstacles to bringing some sorely-needed diversity to this field.
Serious attention needs to be paid to the matter of funding for Oriental medicine education before the decision to increase hours is made final. This means taking to task the companies that serve our profession, as well as the public agencies that fund other health care degrees, including chiropractic and osteopathy. It also means the establishment of fundraising programs to solicit money from individuals who support the goals of Oriental medicine. I'd especially like to point out that most of our practitioners are trained in the wealthiest, most philanthropic, and open-minded areas of this country. It would be a shame not to tap into these resources to improve the quality of our schools (and people's ability to attend them).
It may also improve the quality of Oriental medicine education to raise the requirements for admission and intensify the rigor of courses within the current framework. Since the degree program is a graduate program in science, it'd be reasonable to expect matriculating students to have a bachelor's degree with the same science and math credits required of those entering other medical programs leading to licensure for primary care practice. Thus, students would begin school with a better understanding of Western science, which seems to be a central concern in the debate over hours. They would also be better prepared for the demands of an intense graduate science program.
In addition, more energy needs to be committed to educating instructors. Knowing a subject does not translate into knowing how to teach it. We need to extract what is useful from Western and Eastern pedagogy and develop and disseminate tools that will help teachers effectively share their knowledge. Whether or not hours are raised, this type of effort could make students feel better about the investment they are making in their education.
If we are interested in making education for acupuncturists comparable to that given MDs, we must remind ourselves that the four-year medical degree is only the prelude to years of paid, supervised postgraduate practice. Perhaps we need to develop this sort of system for Oriental medical education. It would accomplish the aim of ensuring high standards of practice by new practitioners, allowing them to gain indispensable clinical experience under supervision, and to earn an income.
Instituting the changes I'm suggesting would be a more complex process than simply adding hours to existing master's level programs in Oriental medicine. However, our profession is still young in this country. We are charged with building institutions that will be strong and enduring. This will require the patience to implement solutions to our problems that are based on the concerns of everyone who has a stake in the future of Oriental medicine in the United States.