British Columbia Creates New Registration System for TCM Practitioners

By Editorial Staff

After nearly two decades of discussion, British Columbia has become the first province in Canada to pass regulations requiring individuals to register with the province in order to practice traditional Chinese medicine. The regulations went into effect April 12, 2003, and apply to all individuals currently practicing in British Columbia.

Although British Columbia has registered acupuncturists since 1999, the original registration process applied only to the practice of acupuncture. The new rules take into consideration a variety of therapies, including herbology and other aspects of traditional Chinese medicine.

"This is a project that has been 20 years in the making, and it has been a challenge," remarked Mason Loh, QC, chair of the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists (CTCMA). "Some people say that bringing a 3,000-years-old healing system in line with other health care professionals is impossible. Well, this registration has shown that it can be done."

CTCMA was established by the provincial government in 2000. Its function is to oversee the practice of acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine in British Columbia, and to protect the public from being treated by an unlicensed provider.

CTCMA "is the authority where patients can go if they have any concern about the practice of a TCM practitioner," added Loh. "The college will investigate and, if warranted, has the authority to discipline the offending practitioner."

Under the new regulations, individuals must meet certain educational requirements and pass licensing examinations before being allowed to practice. To keep up with the latest techniques and safety procedures, CTCMA also mandated that every applicant pass a series of safety courses spread out over several years. In addition, providers must carry at least $1 million in malpractice insurance to ensure patients have recourse in the case of negligence.

Qualified practitioners will be granted one of four titles. The more training and experience a practitioner has, the broader his or her scope of practice.

Scope of Practice for Registrants in British Columbia
Title Acupuncture Herbology All TCM modalities (acupuncture, herbology, food cure, tuina, rehabilitative exercises) May accept referrals from other TCM practitioners Years of traditional Chinese medical education required
Acupuncturist (RAc) X       3
Herbalist (RTCM-H)   X     3
Practitioner (RTCM-P) X X X   4
Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine (Dr. TCM) X X X X 5

In a CTCMA press release, registrar Randy Wong explained the reasoning behind using four titles.

"Traditional Chinese medicine covers such a wide range of treatment that treatments like acupuncture and herbology are distinct professions in their own rights," Wong said.

All providers who were practicing in British Columbia prior to the implementation of the regulations were given a "grandparenting" option, consisting of a series of assessments to determine whether they met the new qualifications. To date, approximately 330 providers have met the qualifications to practice as a doctor of traditional Chinese medicine, practitioner or herbalist; another 580 have met the acupuncturist requirements.

In the next few months, individuals who have applied for registration, but whose registration has not been processed fully, will be allowed to provide care on a limited basis. During this time, their practice will be supervised, pending the outcome of assessment and evaluation. A list of qualified practitioners, along with information on the registration requirements, can be found at CTCMA's Web site (

Alberta and Quebec were the first provinces to register acupuncturists, and have had regulations in place since 1985 and 1995, respectively. In 2001, they, along with British Columbia, signed a reciprocity agreement, under which any acupuncturist registered in one province can relocate to another province and be registered without having to take a separate licensing exam.


  1. Choosing doctors in Chinese medicine to be easier and safer. College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists press release, April 11, 2003.
  2. Reciprocity of acupuncture licenses across Canada. College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists press release, November 23, 2001.

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