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TCM- A closer look at the ancient art of Traditional Chinese Medicine

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a method of complementary and alternative medicine that uses a holistic approach toward individualized patient care dating back thousands of years. Unlike conventional Western medicine which strives to treat isolated physical conditions, TCM seeks to improve healthy unity of the mind, body and spirit without the use of pharmaceutical drugs. TCM providers use several different methods to diagnose patients including observation, listening, interviewing, pulse reading, and touching. In the United States, the most common treatments used in TCM are acupuncture and herbal medicine. However, professionals may also apply moxibustion, massage, qi gong, cupping, tai chi and dietary therapy to treat clients.

The underlying objective of all these practices as presented through Chinese medicine schools is to restore

Since TCM does not involve surgical procedures or Western drugs but relies on naturally occurring remedies and treatments, most TCM professions do not require formal licensing and certification to legally practice. Yet, most states do demand that all acupuncturists obtain a state license prior to working with patients because they use needles during therapy. TCM practitioners usually work in interdisciplinary offices, alternative health clinics, private practices, professional associations, academic institutions, and holistic care facilities.

What major theories is Traditional Chinese Medicine based upon?

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), TCM is largely based on the yin-yang theory, eight principles theory, and five elements theory. To start, the yin-yang theory is the belief that everything in the universe exists through a natural balance of opposing forces. In fact, nothing can exist without the presence of an opposing force; it is a completely complimentary relationship. For example, can light exist without darkness? Or can male exist without female?

Professionals of TCM apply this theory to the human body in that illness is often the result of a disruption of harmony, or yin-yang, in the body. This disturbance can occur between internal and external conditions, between the mind and the body, or even between different organs. The eight principles theory is basically an extension of yin-yang theory because it is the way that practitioners identify or diagnose disharmony in a patient. The eight principles are actually four pairs of opposing forces in the body: yin and yang, hot and cold, interior and exterior, and deficiency and excess. Uneven distribution of any of these elements can lead to illness through the body.

Lastly, the five elements theory is a TCM idea that the natural world has an interconnected relationship to the human pathology and physiology. The five elements are wood, fire, earth, water, and metal. In TCM, organs and tissues are each characterized by one of the natural elements. Just as all natural elements remain in constant change to either promote or restrain each other to create harmonious conditions, the body's physical components also work in this manner to function normally. Thus, if one element becomes disturbed, the whole body is negatively impacted.

What factors influence Traditional Chinese Medicine salaries?

Salary averages can significantly vary between professionals employed in the field of TCM. For instance, salaries and wages may differ according to occupations. Since acupuncturists are the most mainstream TCM professionals in the United States and require formal education through Chinese medicine training courses to gain licensure, they are likely to earn high salaries compared to other unregulated TCM occupations.

Geographic location can also impact salary expectations. Job availability is greater in cities with concentrated populations, but more career opportunities do not always equate to better paying jobs. Therefore, professionals that can relocate for a position can improve their chances of achieving ideal salaries. Also, employers and patients alike generally prefer TCM professionals with advanced degrees and significant work experience in the field. As a result, those that continue to show enthusiasm for continuing education by earning a master's or doctorate degree in TCM along with additional training often generate higher incomes.

Finally, certification status can also affect salaries. Consequently, showing occupational aptitude by getting nationally certified in one or more areas of specialty in TCM may lead to profitable careers.

Chinese Medicine Degree

What academic awards do Traditional Chinese Medicine programs grant?

Students that graduate from a Traditional Chinese Medicine-related program often earn a diploma, certificate, or degree either in TCM or an area of specialization thereof. Although a diploma or certificate may be satisfactory for some TCM professions, all practitioners (especially acupuncturists) are encouraged to earn a master's or doctorate degree to ensure professional competency and a high level of quality care for patients. Those that are interested in starting their education by earning a certificate or diploma will find the most popular specialty options available include: Certificate in Qi Gong, Certificate in Acupuncture, Certificate in Herbal Medicine, Certificate in Tui Na Massage Therapy, Diploma of Oriental Medicine, and Diploma of Acupuncture.

On the other hand, students that prefer to complete a bachelor's or master's degree in TCM may earn one of the

What education and training in Traditional Chinese Medicine is required to get nationally certified in the field?

The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) is the principle organization for certifying TCM professionals practicing in the United States. Currently, the NCCAOM offers certifications in acupuncture, Chinese herbology, oriental medicine, and Asian bodywork therapy. Those that become certified are officially considered "nationally board certified" NCCAOM Diplomates in their specialty.


In terms of formal education, the NCCAOM only recognized programs that have been accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). Education and clinical training requirements for each Traditional Chinese Medicine certification vary between specialties. For example, professionals seeking acupuncture certification must complete at least 1,490 hours of formal education and training in acupuncture with point location, biomedicine, and foundations of oriental medicine. In additional, all acupuncturists must also complete a clean needle technique (CNT) course. However, those that want certification in Chinese herbology need to complete a minimum of 1,490 hours in foundations of oriental medicine and biomedicine with another 2,050 hours in Chinese herbology. Practitioners preparing for oriental medicine certification are required to have 1,490 hours of education in foundations of oriental medicine, acupuncture with point location, and biomedicine along with 2,050 hours in Chinese herbology. Finally, to obtain Asian bodywork therapy certification, students need to complete a program containing at least 500 hours of combined clinical training and education in Asian bodywork with courses in allopathic anatomy, physiology, and Oriental medical theory, First Aid, CPR, and ethics.

In all specialties, apprenticeships may compensate for lack of formal instruction in some subjects. After eligibility requirements have been fulfilled, the NCCAOM will administer certification examinations according to specific practice. Once examination has been passed, certification is granted. Recertification is required every four years by completing sixty Professional Development Activity (PDA) points. These PDA points can be acquired through several different channels including: additional NCCAOM certifications, serving on a professional board, passing NCCAOM biomedicine examination, donating acupuncture and oriental medicine services, item writing, clinical supervision and experience, research projects, peer-reviewed posters and exhibits, authoring literary publications (books, professional journals, articles), teaching and lecturing, and advocating legislature.

Chinese Medicine School

Where can students locate Traditional Chinese Medicine schools?

Professionals that practice Traditional Chinese Medicine typically complete a formal post-secondary education program. These programs can be found online or through campus-based institutions, colleges, universities, academies, and online schools. Students that intend to eventually get licensed or nationally certified in an aspect of Traditional Chinese Medicine are encouraged to enroll in a program that is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM).

Fortunately, there are currently several dozen campus-based ACAOM-approved programs found in cities throughout the United States.

What kind of education and training do Traditional Chinese Medicine schools provide?

Most TCM schools offer programs that are divided into two parts. The first section consists of theory education. Here students may learn the basic foundations of TCM, acupuncture techniques and point location, therapeutic modalities, Chinese herbology, advanced anatomy, patient counseling, botany, diagnosis, Qi Gong exercise, physiology, and medical terminology. These subjects are often taught through classroom lectures, written examination, group discussions, online activities, case studies, and independent readings.


Before gaining admission into advance degree programs, some TCM schools require students to complete pre-requisite courses in English composition, psychology, algebra, chemistry, and biology. Some examples of courses found in TCM schools include: Foundations of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Western Medical Diagnosis, Acupuncture Techniques, Point Location and Meridian Theory, Chinese Materia Medica, Public Issues in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, Nutrition and Dietary Systems, Biostatistics, and Herbal Formulation Skills.

Of course, education is largely dependent on which aspect of TCM a students is studying. For instance, those that are earning a degree in acupuncture will engage in curriculum that is specifically focused on aspects of that TCM specialty. Some schools may further accommodate students that want to narrow their scope of practice by offering programs and courses in subspecialties like gynecology, pediatrics, pain management, psychotherapy, cancer treatment, and women's health.

Once theory education is completed, TCM schools tend to conclude a program by requiring students to participate in supervised clinical training activities or internships. Unlike theory education, clinical training is usually taught in off-site community health centers that provide TCM services. This is a great opportunity for students to observe and assist a variety of medical and health care experts working with real life patients. Although each TCM program has different requirements, students can generally expect to spend between 500 and 2,000 hours in clinical training. Most TCM schools are designed to prepare students to qualify for examinations by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

Request Information from Chinese Medicine Colleges

The Chinese Medicine degree program you need in order to get your career started is listed below among many Chinese Medicine schools, colleges, and universities. This page was designed to provide you a resource to find what you need quickly and efficiently. Request information from several of the Chinese Medicine schools, colleges, and universities below in order to find the right program for you.

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