Completing an accredited acupuncture course and becoming a member with a professional body will help to give your acupuncture career the best start
Acupuncture is often regarded as a form of complementary or alternative medicine and there are different styles you can practice including western and traditional. Both approaches use fine needles inserted into the skin or muscles at certain points with the aim of relieving pain or illness.
Traditional acupuncture is based on the ancient Chinese theory that the body depends on the balance of vital energy, known as qi and that if qi cannot flow freely through the body, it can make the person ill. Acupuncture is used to restore this balance and relieve the illness.
Western acupuncture works on the basis that the inserted needles stimulate sensory nerves which makes the body produce natural pain relieving endorphins which help to relieve the symptoms that the patient has.
As an acupuncturist you'll typically take a holistic approach to treating patients, looking at the individual rather than just their symptoms. You may see people who are suffering from migraines, dental or joint pain, post-operative pain or those with musculoskeletal conditions.
As an acupuncturist, you'll need to:
- carry out an initial consultation with each client, in order to establish a detailed case history, assess their health and determine a treatment plan
- explain the diagnosis and treatment to the client and respond to their questions and concerns
- conduct subsequent one-to-one treatment sessions, lasting between 20 minutes and an hour
- give treatment by inserting fine needles into the skin at particular locations and leaving there for the required amount of time
- assess client progress through questioning and examination, reviewing treatment plans if necessary
- keep accurate and confidential client records
- if self-employed, organise and promote your practice, keep financial records and carry out business administration.
Alongside your main acupuncture treatments, you may also decide to offer other forms of therapy such as moxibustion (burning the moxa herb on or near the skin), electro-acupuncture (stimulating insertion points with small electric currents), acupressure (to loosen and relax muscles) and cupping.
- As you'll typically be self-employed, your earnings will be related to how much you charge and the success of your practice. Fees for patients are around £40 to £70 for the initial consultation session, with subsequent shorter sessions costing around £25 to £60.
- Your salary will rise as you establish your practice as you'll be able to charge more per session with your growing experience and you'll attract a larger client base. Salaries may also be affected by any links you have with GP practices and other healthcare professionals, as this may supply referrals.
Some acupuncturists offer multi-bed sessions in which more than one client is treated at a time (using partition screens for privacy), making it possible to reduce the treatment and running costs.
Additional income from other employment may be required to cover living costs and overheads to begin with.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
The majority of acupuncturists are self-employed, allowing you to have some flexibility with the hours you work. However, you'll need to consider the appointment times that clients may want, meaning it's likely you'll need to work early mornings, evenings and weekends.
Part-time work and career breaks are possible.
What to expect
- The cost of overheads and room rental may determine your place of work; you may work from home if you have the space, or you may work in a private or shared consulting room with the possibility of being able to set up your own practice once established. Flexibility and mobility are an advantage when starting out.
- You need to be at ease with physical contact and working in a variety of workplaces (including patients' homes) with a range of clients and colleagues.
- Self-employment is very common and ultimately offers a choice of working hours and locations.
- You could work in both urban and rural areas. Effective self-promotion is essential in order to compete successfully in areas where there are already a number of established acupuncture practices.
- A uniform isn't required, but many acupuncturists choose to wear clinical clothing (tunic and trousers).
You can choose from a variety of acupuncture courses, with the length of study varying according to the educational provider. Courses are run at an honours-degree level and the majority lead to a BSc. Some institutions also offer MSc courses.
Accredited courses are available and this ensures a certain level of teaching is delivered, across a minimum of 400 hours in a clinical setting, including a basis in Chinese medicine theory along with physiology, anatomy and other western medical sciences. A list of available accredited courses can be found at British Acupuncture Accreditation Board (BAAB) - The Board's Accredited Courses.
Observation and clinical practice will form a substantial part of your training, and practice treatments are carried out under the close supervision of trained and experienced acupuncturists. Most training is done within a college or university setting although some online learning is becoming available.
Completing an accredited course means you're automatically eligible to join the British Acupuncture Council (BAcC). This enables you to join the BAcC register, which is searchable by potential clients and shows that your practice meets robust professional standards.
While you're studying, you can join the BacC as a student member. This gives you access to a range of resources, a copy of the in-house publication and advice on setting up your own practice once you're qualified.
It's not essential to have previous experience in healthcare to get onto an acupuncture course. Knowledge of biological sciences is helpful but attitude, personal qualities and life experience are equally important. Personal experience of successful treatment and any experience of teaching, counselling, advice work, massage or nursing may be useful.
You'll need to show:
- good communication and interpersonal skills, in order to explain treatment processes and establish a positive rapport with clients
- the ability to put patients at ease
- an open, non-judgemental approach
- effective organisational, marketing and financial skills, in order to set up and run a successful business.
Some time spent shadowing a qualified acupuncturist before you start training would be beneficial. You'll observe technique, patient care and the running of a clinic.
Work within other healthcare situations would also be helpful to give you some experience of dealing with patients. Experience in others areas such as marketing or business is also useful to help with setting up and promoting your practice.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
The vast majority of acupuncturists are self-employed and so it is likely you will work from your own home or premises or visit patients' homes. It's also possible to work at private multidisciplinary complementary healthcare or medical centres, where you could rent a treatment room.
A few companies, keen to enhance their employees' potential, hire acupuncturists to treat their staff.
You may occasionally find an opportunity for part-time work through the NHS or GP practices in areas such as:
- antenatal care
- pain management.
Such opportunities are limited however and not common. GPs may sometimes refer patients to private acupuncturists and being a member of the BAcC can help with NHS recognition and GP referrals.
Limited part-time work may be available in hospices or care homes.
Look for job vacancies at:
- British Acupuncture Council (BAcC) - members can have their practices listed on the website for patients to search
- NHS Jobs
- London Wellness Academy - information about acupuncturist careers on cruise ships.
Since acupuncturists are generally self-employed, vacancy adverts are limited. For more information on setting up a business, see self-employment.
As it's likely you'll be self-employed, you'll be responsible for your own training and development. It's therefore important to maintain contact with professional organisations to find out about relevant events and courses.
You should consider becoming a member of the BAcC, which is a self-regulatory body. This shows patients that you meet certain professional standards and have the relevant qualifications.
The BAcC requires members to complete at least 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) activity each year. CPD courses, events and seminars are offered by the BAcC, as well as a variety of professional bodies and colleges, which can be found via a simple web search. Research these carefully to pick the one that most suits your interests and needs.
If you want to increase your knowledge you may wish to take further training in areas such as:
- specific acupuncture techniques
- advanced acupuncture theory
- Chinese herbal medicine
- other holistic medical therapies.
You can also choose to specialise by undertaking specific training to use acupuncture in areas such as:
- antenatal care
- pain management
- psychiatric care
- stroke rehabilitation.
Some short courses are offered (in English) in countries such as China and Hong Kong. Doctoral study is also available.
Most UK regions have set up support groups for acupuncturists, which can be a way of seeking out professional opinion, networking and keeping abreast of opportunities for further training and development. Supervision is encouraged.
There is no structured career progression for an acupuncturist, and success depends very much on professional and business ability. Client numbers tend to increase as you gain experience and reputation, and your personal interests will often determine the direction your career takes.
After gaining considerable experience, it's possible for you to teach or supervise students on courses, e.g. as clinical supervisors at acupuncture colleges. You could also choose to research, write, or practise another therapy alongside acupuncture.
Acupuncturists often work in more than one location or setting, which can provide variety. There may also be opportunities to work abroad - however, you should check the specific requirements of the country you're interested in working in, as these may differ from the UK.