L.Ac means three years of focused effort in learning the theoretical and clinical skills that give a practitioner enough experience with Chinese medicine to begin to practice acupuncture. It means the practitioner has a minimum of 1900 hours of training and a Master's degree in acupuncture or Oriental medicine. Additionally, Licensed Acupuncturists are required to pass a special Clean Needle exam and a National exam.
Licensed Acupuncturists don't just learn acupuncture. They are schooled in Chinese medicine theory, some basics in herbal medicine, Chinese massage, food therapy and a variety Asian wellness practices. L.Ac means that your practitioner has had at least 650 hours of supervised clinical experience. Licensed acupuncturists have dedicated anywhere from 3-5 years in acquiring the skills that allow them to begin a practice.
Here in Missouri it is also common to see Certified Acupuncturists. These are chiropractors who have a minimum of 100 hours of study in the use of acupuncture, and passed the chiropractic board's acupuncture exam.
Finally, there are the M.D.'s. As use of needles is considered to be within the Medical Doctor's “scope of practice” they may perform acupuncture without any additional training. Some take a few weekend courses, others engage in more extensive studies.
Who to see?
Use the services of the person who can help you to feel better! Regardless of training or perspective, there are some people who are just gifted with what they do. There are practitioners who either have a knack or quickly acquire the understanding of how to use acupuncture. When seeking out a practitioner, ideally use the services of someone who comes recommended by someone you trust.
What kind of questions should I ask of a practitioner I am considering?
The basics such as where did you study and for long, along with how much continuing education (and what kind) they have had. It is helpful to know how much clinical experience they have acquired in the use acupuncture. Finding out about what kind of success have they had in treating the condition for which you are seeking their services is always a good idea. As is checking out their website and seeing how they talk about the use of acupuncture in their practices.
As with any kind of health care practitioner, find someone who has the skills and with whom you feel comfortable talking to. Be sure to choose someone who takes the time to make sure they understand your condition and concerns. Acupuncture is a conversation, on many levels!