Ask an expert - about acupuncture - training

23 questions

Q: Doed obtaining the Chiway swiss Diploma in Acupuncture and Tuina entitle one to be registered in the Uk as a licensed acupuncturist?

A: The first and most important thing to say is that in the absence of statutory regulation in the UK there is no single registration process for someone to become a licensed acupuncturist. Under what is termed common law, anyone can set up practice without any restriction. The only legal requirements are those which involve registration with local authorities under a number of different byelaws which regulate skin piercing activities. These mainly concern the standards of hygiene and waste disposal in a practice, but in recent years there has been an increase in interest in the standards of training which people who are trying to register have. We have heard stories of people with very short training courses behind them, perhaps a two weekend course, being refused registration. However, the majority of courses of this nature are provided for medical health professionals like doctors and physios who are usually exempt from registration anyway, so in practice there are very few people trying to become licensed as traditional acupuncturists on the basis of rudimentary training.

The majority of UK practitioners belong to one of a number of different acupuncture associations, membership of some of them giving people exemption from licensing in the Greater London area. Most have clearly identified and published entry standards, and it would really be a matter of whether your training from Switzerland met the minimum criteria for membership. None of the associations of which we are aware has any reciprocal recognition of qualifications, so we suspect that you would have to make an individual application and be interviewed about the extent of your training. We have looked at the website of the school which provided your training, and on the surface it looks fairly comprehensive, but we have seen similar programmes for course which lasted a couple of weeks, so without a course transcript detailing hours of training it would be difficult to say how easy it would be to register in the UK.

Our own standards and entry process are to be found here:

where our Admissions process is described, and a broader outline of training standards can be found on the website of our sister organisation, the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board here:

The documentation here outlines the degree level training which accredited courses have and which lead to automatic eligibility to join the BAcC. All other applicants are interviewed and assessed individually.

Q: I am considering a career change to acupuncture but am suffering with mild osteoarthritis in both my hands. I wonder if this will affect my ability to practise, or is most of the work of a fairly gentle nature? I know this is hard to answer, but I am trying to assess whether this is a sensible career path for me. I am 48 years old.

A: There is no doubt that acupuncture is a gentle therapy, and it would be most unlikely for you to have to anything which involved great pressure or strength. The majority of needles are inserted with the help of guide tubes, which require only the strength necessary to tap the needle in, and there is not a great deal beyond this which would be a must. Some teaching institutions have training sessions in tui na, a form of Chinese massage, which you may find a little problematic, but this is not something which is a must for successful practice.

The only challenge which you might face is fine manipulation and control of the needle if the condition becomes more serious. This would have to be a very significant deterioration, because we had a colleague with rheumatoid arthritis whose hands were terribly deformed and painful who still comfortably managed a successful and busy practice. However, it is something worth exploring because there is a level of dexterity which you will need.

The best way to get advice would be to contact the nearest teaching institution or, better still, visit ones which have Open Days for people to drop in and discuss the possibility of training. We have a sister body, the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board,. which accredits courses offering automatic eligibility for membership of the BAcC on graduation, and a full list of the accredited courses can be found here: The website also contains a wealth of information about studying acupuncture and the benefits of acupuncture as a career.

The only caveat to bear in mind is that teaching bodies are often obliged to take on students without necessarily having to take into account their ability to practise or to register as professionals afterwards, i.e. someone can insist on being trained and a college can't turn them away. So, being pronounced fit for study may not be the same as being fit to practise. We are as sure as we can be that no-one would be unscrupulous enough to take you on if they felt that you really would struggle to carry on in the career, but we are aware that this is the legal extent of their responsibility.

Anyway, we hope that you get good news about this and decide to take the plunge. This particular expert is thirty years in and still enjoying every moment of it, and still learning!

Q: I am pretty confused because I would like to study Microsystems Acupuncture to use it in my relaxation therapy sessions.  I've found different short courses open to anyone. I wonder if they are reliable courses and if I will be able to perform ear, hand and face acupuncture safely.   My concern is can I do it  without breaking the laws about the practice. I see a full acupuncturist degree lasts 3 years so I am pretty perplexed by the difference. 

A:  Let's begin with the basics. Since there is no statutory regulation of acupuncture in the UK the only laws relating to the practice of acupuncture are to do with the registration or licensing of premises in which the practice takes place. There are different laws in place depending on where you are based, but they are mainly concerned with the health and safety aspects of practice - clean and suitable premises, proper techniques for the safe use and disposal of acupuncture needles and other clinical waste and maintenance of the premises themselves. An increasing number of authorities are beginning to check someone's training credentials, and this may have an impact on those with very little training, but the majority of bona fide UK courses will pass muster.

 We obviously are committed to the idea of a degree level training as the minimum standard for a traditional acupuncturist in independent practice. However, many of the microsystems in common use, like ear acupuncture, are relatively modern. Auricular acupuncture, for example, was mainly a development by a Frenchman called Paul Nogier in the 1950s, and other systems, while based loosely on classical principles, are often modern innovations, scalp acupuncture being one such.

 When all the acupuncture groups met to discuss the possibility of statutory regulation the microsystems groups worked out pretty quickly that they would be unlikely to meet the standard for statutory regulation, likely to have been agreed at degree equivalent, and formed a working group to seek recognition through the Complementary and Natural Healthcare Council. This they achieved. The CNHC website itself is rather unhelpful, mainly identifying individual practitioners rather than the organisations which generated them and which provided their training. However, you can still find a listing on what had been the site of the Microsystems Acupuncture Regulatory Working Group here, and the names and addresses look pretty current.

 Some of these groups are mainly 5-point detox organisations, and probably not what you have in mind. The others offer different forms of microsystems acupuncture based on holistic principles, and while it is not our place to comment on them individually, the majority are credible bodies which offer specific training within precise limits of competence. As long as someone works within their scope of practice the work they do can be very effective. We would obviously prefer it if everyone learned to practise traditional acupuncture at degree level, but there are likely to be all sorts of constraints which make that impossible for some.

 Of the different varieties of microsystem work the one which does give us the greatest concern is facial or cosmetic acupuncture. We have reservations about the extent to which people are taught how to use needles safely in an area where mistakes could prove very costly for their insurers, and some of the courses we have seen have been very rudimentary. We are also working hard to establish safety standards for regulated healthcare professionals whose short training courses has led to a number of serious accidents, so we would advise that you check this aspect of the training very carefully. We would not wish to see you expose yourself to risk because you don't know what you don't know, if that doesn't sound too cryptic. Acupuncture seems to deceptively simple at times - find point, stick needle in - that people forget what is going on inside the body they are puncturing, even people who should know better. 

Q: We think that a more important thing to look for is not the qualification which a practitioner has but the membership organisation(s) to which they belong. Most people hold a licentiate in acupuncture, often backed by a BSc degree from a university as more UK courses are validated by universities. Some describe the qualification as a diploma, but this is normally understood to be a shorter course of perhaps two years. Most training courses offering the licentiate usually run to 3 years in line with the recommendations of the World Health Organisation which cites 3600 hours of training as the minimum necessary to achieve sufficient skill to operate in independent practice.

The trouble we often find is that it is very easy to call a sub-standard course a diploma or licentiate programme, but until there is some form of statutory regulation of training it will often be caveat emptor. Many of the courses which operate below the WHO levels tend to offer membership of their own 'tied' organisation. This does not mean that they are necessarily disreputable, but it does mean that it would be hard not to accept their own graduates.

The BAcC part funds an independent accreditation body, the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board, which sets and polices very onerous standards for the teaching institutions applying for accreditation. On the basis of meeting these standards we allow graduates automatic eligibility to the BAcC, subject to health and criminal record checks. All other entrants have to apply through an assessment and interview route which uses the BAAB standards as its baseline.

The key think about looking at membership of a professional association rather than an individual qualification is that someone else has done the hard work for you of deciding who is and who is not fit to practise, and also should have in place a comprehensive conduct process to deal with anyone failing to meet the standards of behaviour expected of a practitioner. The BAcC also provides bloc insurance cover, guaranteeing that the practitioner you are seeing is fully covered by a 'gold standard' policy. 

Q:  I am a student of Acupunture in China - China Beijing International Acupuncture Training Center. After graduation I plan to set my own practice based in UK. Can I apply for the membership from British Acupuncture Council after finishing my studies in China?

A: The BAcC is always happy to entertain applications from potential new members!

The greater majority of our new members graduate from UK colleges and courses which have been accredited by the British Acupuncture Accreditation Board. Although accreditation covers a great number of requirements for the course itself in terms of resources and finances, it also enshrines the BAcC's current entry requirement which is set at a degree level 3600 hours of training. This is the same requirement as that laid down by the World Health organisation for a non-medical practitioner working in independent practice.

When people apply from overseas we have a system of assessing transcripts of their courses for equivalence with the standards which we set, and there is a process of assessment and interview which takes people through to membership. There is a great deal of information on our website

and on this page there is a link to a micro-site which takes someone through the pre-application process to assess potential eligibility before embarking on the process.

You can also speak to our Admissions Manager who is in the office on Tuesdays and Wednesdays if your questions are not fully answered by the website.

If you think your training will not meet our requirements (we are aware that training levels can vary widely across China and even within the same institutions where people can choose their own level of engagement), the our Manager will be happy to discuss with you how you can make good any shortfall.  Hopefully, however, your standard will be more than adequate.

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