I get lots of questions from patients about how their friend/mom/brother/daughter/etc should find a good acupuncturist wherever they live. Here are a couple guidelines to take into consideration!
1) Look at the initials after their name. You should only see an acupuncturist who is licensed by their state to practice acupuncture. The initials that indicate this license vary by state. In Massachusetts, they are Lic.Ac. (Licensed Acupuncturist). In Rhode Island, they are DAc. (Doctor of Acupuncture). You can find out what the appropriate initials are by looking on the state licensing board website, or the website of any acupuncture schools in that state. If you are unsure, ask the practitioner what their initials mean, and if they are licensed in their state.
2) Look at their graduate degree initials. These vary somewhat by acupuncture school, but you want your acupuncturist to have a Masters Degree in acupuncture, if they want to school in the United States. (If they did their acupuncture training in China, this is often designated by the words “MD in China”). Common Masters Degrees in the United States are MSc in Acupuncture, MAOM (Masters of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine), MOM (Masters in Oriental Medicine), Mac (Masters of Acupuncture). A few schools in the US now offer post-graduate degrees, which would be a DAOM (Doctor of Acupuncture & Oriental Medicine), DAc (Doctor of Acupuncture). Acupuncturists that have been practicing for a while, before the newer graduate degrees, may have the initials OMD (Oriental Medicine Doctor.)
3) Try to find an acupuncturist who has their Diplomate from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM). The NCCAOM offers national board exams for new acupuncturists. Different numbers of board exams are required in different states. (Massachusetts requires all of them.) If a practitioner has passed all the board exams necessary, the NCCAOM will issue them a Diplomate in Acupuncture (Dipl.Ac) a Diplomate in Chinese Herbal Medicine (Dipl.CHM), or a Diplomate in Oriental Medicine (Dipl.OM, which is both Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine). These initials show that your acupuncturist has passed these national board exams, whether or not they are required for practice in your state. The NCCAOM also has a "find a practitioner" database, which can be a good place to start.
4) Find an acupuncturist who went to a formal acupuncture school. In some states, doctors and naturopathic physicians can take short continuing education courses in acupuncture, which allow them to practice legally. However, these courses merely cover basic technique, and symptomatic points. (ie, if the patient has a headache, needle here.) They do not touch on much of the underlying theory that makes an acupuncturist able to diagnose and treat effectively. In a similar vein, stay away from physical therapists or physicians who offer “dry needling” or “trigger point needling” – which are acupuncture techniques removed from the theory that explains them. The Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine has a helpful map of accredited acupuncture schools in the USA.
5) Talk to the practitioner on the phone. Tell them what your primary ailment is, and see if they think they can help. A good acupuncturist should be able to let you know over the phone whether the acupuncture may be effective for you. They most likely can’t give you a full sense of prognosis or a treatment plan without seeing you first. However, they should be able to answer your questions about what to expect, and also lay out a treatment plan for you after meeting with you. The patient-practitioner dynamic is very important to treatment – make sure you choose a practitioner with whom you feel comfortable.