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14 Mar 2017 12:21 PM | Anonymous

Guest Blogger: Steven H. Stumpf, EdD


The 2015 OA and the 2013 NCCAOM Job Task Analysis are state of the art when it comes to describing how acupuncturists go about earning a living. Knowledge of acupuncturist work habits has been slightly better than hearsay. My co-authors and I prepared a manuscript that compares the findings from the two surveys. Findings were not too unlike what myself and co-authors found in our 2010 publication on the same topic.

Before we get to the findings I would like to discuss why these are so important now. The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) recently announced that acupuncture would receive its own SOC – Standard Occupation Classification. There has never been a singular SOC for acupuncture before, the reasons for which are not relevant now. The “award” of our own SOC is important because (i) acupuncturists are now recognized as a distinct medical/health profession, and (ii) the profession must collect its own workforce survey data.

If acupuncturists had jobs along the lines of nursing, physical therapy or imaging technology then the federal government would collect the data. However, because three quarter of all acupuncturists work in a private practice of some kind we must collect our own data; at least if we do not want to wait until five or six years when the IRS will collect our data from individual tax returns. I suppose we have waited more than thirty years we can wait another half dozen. However, waiting that long would delay benefits available to health professions that can help and improve work prospects for the profession. An example would be eligibility for training funds to support expansion, especially into the mainstream.

Our paper Comparing Workforce Outcomes for the Two Most Recognized Acupuncturist Workforce Surveys has been accepted for publication in an integrative medicine journal. We spent almost two years pulling together the original data from the two surveys: NCCAOM and the California Occupational Professional Exam Services. There are drawbacks with both surveys which I will not discuss here. I am waiting for a timeline to publication.

Both surveys are primarily focused on something other than collecting workforce information. Both surveys use different scales for key items such as income ranges and part time versus full time work. We need a standard survey focused on acupuncture practice. Fortunately, there are standard models for such a survey favored by the BLS. We could easily adapt these to create a standard acupuncturist workforce survey. Such as survey would have to demonstrate endorsement of the profession. Anyone who has worked with our collection of professional groups that claim to represent acupuncturists will understand how challenging it can be to forge consensus.

The findings are not encouraging, especially when compared to other health professions. I also believe they will not be unfamiliar to working acupuncturists.

  • 70% to 80% of acupuncturists work fewer than 40 hours weekly
  • approximately 76% work in solo practice or in shared space with other acupuncturists
  • 5% to 6% work in a “mainstream” setting
  • more than 70% of the national sample have been in practice fifteen years or less
  • median income is between $40,000 and $50,000.
  • a preponderance of acupuncturists is less than fifty years of age, and fewer than 15% of all respondents have been in practice more than 20 years.

There are more findings and much more useful discussion in the paper which I hope everyone will read. These findings are very similar to those described in our 2010 publication which compared survey reports – not actual data - from the same sources. It is puzzling to me that there seems to be only minor interest in this information. I wonder if this has something to do with the view many acupuncturists have that acupuncture is an alternative medicine and not part of the mainstream. I am fairly certain income and practice time is driven down because so few acupuncturists seem to participate in the medical mainstream. It would appear a substantial number of acupuncturists leave the profession altogether within ten years. Is this because they just give up on earning a living?

What does the future hold for the acupuncture profession? We are in a seminal moment. Gainful Employment guidelines which focus on for profit schools - have placed enormous pressure on acupuncture schools - most of which are for profit. Whatever it is that is taught in acupuncture schools would seem to be uncorrelated with earning a living This is the gist of gainful employment. The President of ACAOM has announced twice in the past 18 months that a third to half of all acupuncture schools will close under pressure from the federal the gainful employment initiative. This federal initiative known as Gainful Employment squarely aims at predatory vocation schools and programs whose graduates are unable to earn a living sufficient to pay down their federal loans. What will that mean for the future of training programs and the profession? How well prepared are AOM schools to demonstrate successful workforce outcomes for their graduates? What does it mean for the current and future workforce if 20 to 30 schools close by late 2018?

I hope to cover these questions in a future post.

Steven H. Stumpf, EdD

NGAOM Vice President Research and Education

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