The Career Path Of An Acupuncturist

Are you thinking about becoming an acupuncturist? Do you wonder about the career path of an acupuncturist? Keep reading to learn more.

Acupuncture is growing in popularity and is recognized as a Regulated Healthcare profession in many provinces in Canada, including Ontario. Acupuncture is a safe, effective, and affordable form of treatment, and is covered by many healthcare insurance plans.

This post will answer help you answer your questions about your career as an acupuncturist and guide you to that career path. Let’s start with the basics.

The Career Path Of An Acupuncturist?

What is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture is the insertion of thin, metal needles to stimulate specific points of the body that reach meridians (invisible channels that run through the body). These stimulation points are referred to as acupuncture points. According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), there are 365 acupuncture points on 20 meridians on the human body.

A typical acupuncture treatment involves manipulating the needles in these points for 15 to 30 minutes. Acupuncture needles are inserted by hand to regulate the flow of Qi (pronounced ‘chee’) throughout the body. The goal of acupuncture is to restore health to the mind and body, thus balancing yin and yang.

Possible Career Path of an Acupuncturist

An acupuncturist is a healthcare professional who takes a Traditional Chinese Medical approach to the maintenance of health and the management of disease and discomfort. The focus of acupuncture is to improve the well-being of the patient.

As an acupuncturist, expect to work with a wide range of people from many different backgrounds and health concerns. Common conditions treated by acupuncture are headaches and migraines, arthritis, back pain, digestive problems, sports injuries, infertility, menopausal and menstrual issues, anxiety, stress-related problems and many more.

Career Path Requirements Of An Acupuncturist

To practice acupuncture in Ontario you must become a general member of the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario (CTCMPAO). To become a member of the CTCMPAO, you need a general certificate of registration. As a general member, you are qualified to practice in Ontario and can perform any controlled act authorized to your profession under the TCM Act, 2006.

Protected Titles of the CTCMPAO

The CTCMPAO grants use of the two protected titles and designations:

  1. Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner (TCMP) – are authorized to practice traditional Chinese medicine providing to patients a combination of therapies, including TCM herbal medicine and acupuncture within the scope of traditional Chinese medicine practice. They are authorized to use the R. TCMP designation, and may use the designation R.Ac.
  2. Acupuncturist (Ac) – Acupuncturists may only use the designation R.Ac and are authorized to practice traditional Chinese medicine using acupuncture, including tuina, cupping and moxibustion, excluding TCM herbal medicine.

Registration with the CTCMPAO

The College of Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioners and Acupuncturists of Ontario currently grants Certificates of Registration in the General, Student and Inactive Classes of registration.

Student Class of Registration

Registering in the Student Class allows students to stay engaged with the College and helps them prepare for registration as a General Class member. It will allow students to continue the supervised practice of the profession after they have completed their formal education program.

For more information go to the CTCMPAO’s website under student class.

General Class of Registration

Registering in the General Class of the College is the primary route for registration with the CTCMPAO to become a Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner and Acupuncturist in Ontario. Registering as a General Class member of the CTCMPAO, you must either:

  • complete your TCM education and clinical experience at a full-time post-secondary traditional Chinese medicine program of at least four years
  • complete a full-time post-secondary traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture program of at least three years, (or education that is of equivalent duration).

How Long Does It Take To Become An Acupuncturist?

The career path to becoming an acupuncturist takes time and depends on a few things:

  • your educational background
  • previous professional healthcare experience.
  • do you want to become an R.Ac? or R.TCMP?
  • are you a full-time or part-time student?

Educational Background

If you have taken some of the mandatory courses at another school you may be exempt. Check the acupuncture school to find out.

Professional Healthcare Experience

If you are currently a healthcare professional you may have taken some of the courses or experience required and may qualify for an exemption. Check the acupuncture school to find out.

R.Ac or R.TCMP?

To become an acupuncturist at a post-secondary TCM school is at least three years. It is four years to become a traditional Chinese medicine practitioner (TCMP). If you have previous education it may take less time (and potentially less tuition). Advanced standing will be determined by the acupuncture school of your choice.

  • to become an R.Ac with no advanced standing it can take up to 3.5 years.
  • to become an R.TCMP with no advance standing it can take up to 4.5 years

Full-Time or Part-Time

Your education will include clinical experience in the TCM profession. You will have experienced at least 500 direct patient contact hours over 45 weeks.

A full-time program will take less time to complete. Depending on the school, completing the program can take:

  • 2.5 – 3.5 years as an R.Ac
  • 4.5 years as an R.TCMP

It could take 6 years to complete if you are a part-time student.

Register with the CTCMPAO

Your career as an acupuncturist will begin once you become a member of the CTCMPAO. To do so, you must pass the Pan-Canadian Examinations. They are generally held twice a year in April and October.

Check the CTCMPAO for information on the exam dates. You may need to add another six months to a year after graduation before you can practice.

Career Benefits Of Being An Acupuncturist

The career path as an acupuncturist is fascinating and challenging. For some, becoming an acupuncturist is a second career choice. This rewarding career attracts people from many diverse backgrounds.

An acupuncturist and Traditional Chinese Medical Practitioner has many positive attributes.

Networking with Health Professionals

Your acupuncture career path will lead you to network and meet new people. Meeting other health professionals is also a good marketing strategy to build lasting relationships with people in your community.

Word of mouth and networking allows you to spread the word about your business. Attend networking events for the general public and begin to introduce your business to your community. Also meet other professionals in other health care fields such as:

  • Chiropractic
  • Physical therapy
  • Massage therapy
  • Yoga
  • BIA (Business Improvement Area)

Each connection you make within a certain profession could lead to many new clients each year.

Meetinging other Acupuncturists

Network with other acupuncturists. Don’t think of them as competition, you can be a source of new clients for each other. You each may practice in different modalities and styles. You can also learn from each other, discuss difficult cases or how to run your practice more effectively.

If you practice within a collaborative setting or run your own practice, you will find the atmosphere to be less rigid than what you would find in a traditional hospital or clinic.

A Flexible Schedule

The advantage of starting your own acupuncture practice is having a flexible work schedule. Work the hours you choose and build your business as you see fit.

You can choose to work mornings, evenings, any day during the week or work around your children’s schedule. Half days maybe your preference or perhaps four full days a week and have three days off.

Work Setting: Acupuncture or Multi-disiplinary?

Do you want to practice in a TCM or a multi-disciplinary clinic? A strictly TCM clinic is where you will find practitioners who practice solely TCM and all that it encompasses: TCM herbs, acupuncture, Tui-na, etc.

Multidisciplinary clinics are where patients can access comprehensive health services under one roof. Teams of health professionals can include a wide range of services, from physiotherapists to psychotherapists, and naturopaths to massage or acupuncturists.

Either a TCM or multi-disciplinary clinic can be specialized in treatment for fertility, dermatology or pediatrics.

Independent Contractor vs. Employee

You may have decided that your career path as an acupuncturist is attractive because you want to work independently. As a sole proprietor, you choose to work as an independent contractor. You run all aspects of your business and deduct business expenses from your earnings. This is a common practice for many acupuncturists.

You may also be working in a clinic, and still, be considered an independent contractor. You won’t be running the clinic, paying rent, or any of the other day-to-day expenses but you may be paid a percentage of the treatment fee.

Employees are paid a salary or wages. There are no deductions of expenses in this scenario. Usually, if you are employed it is by a larger organization such as a hospital or larger corporate setting.

Running a Private Practice

Many acupuncturists will run their own at some point in their careers. They can do this independently or run their own TCM or multi-disciplinary clinic.

Owning and managing your own integrative private practice can seem like a logical next step. The decision to expand your practice to include other healthcare practitioners requires some consideration.

Be prepared to work hard and sometimes you learn as you go. You will be both a business owner and a therapist. The hours are long and you will be managing many therapists and administrative employees.

Considerations Of Running A Private Practice

A successful private practice requires planning and hard work. You are now not just an acupuncturist but you are a business owner and responsible for other people. Here are some things to consider to run your own practice:

Defining Your Practice and Research your Market.

Before you can think about the practical details of running your acupuncture clinic, you need to clarify your business plan. Start by researching your target market in your area.

Financing Your New Practice.

Financing a business is where many acupuncturists feel intimidated and unsure. How to fund your business practice is not usually covered in great depth in school. It is a critical part of how to start your private clinic. Once you develop a business plan and have secured financing, it becomes a bit more manageable.

Develop a Business Plan

Take your time developing your business plan outlining the services you want to offer, and how you will run your company. For more information on writing a business plan check out the Bank for Canadian Entrepreneurs.

Secure Financing

Armed with your business plan, you’re now in a position to secure the funding you will need to start your practice. If you don’t have the necessary funds saved up yourself, places you can approach include:

  • Banks
  • Family members and friends
  • Angel investors – are a high-net-worth individual who provides financial backing for small startups or entrepreneurs. Typically they will exchange for ownership equity in the company.

Setting Up Your Acupuncture Practice

Legal advice

There are legal liabilities involved in starting acupuncture or a multi-disciplinary clinic and indemnify yourself and your practice. Find a lawyer who specializes in private practice to ensure your legal ducks are in a row and avoid costly legal fees in the future.

Negotiate the Lease

Ask your lawyer about negotiating lease length and rent increases.

Clinic Space

Location is important for the clients and your staff to easily attract. Here are some considerations:

  • Is it easy for your clients to access via Public transit or on foot?
  • Parking: what is near by
  • Is it accessable by public transit

Rent – is it affordable?

Rental structure – are you paying the building’s maintenance fee and/or insurance?

Length of rent agreement – How many years before the terms of the agreement change?

What conditions of the agreement? Can you terminate the lease? How much notice do you need to give?

Size of the space – How many treatment rooms can you fit?

  • Is there reception?
  • Waiting room?
  • Kitchen?
  • Staff Room?
  • Storage?
  • Is there room to grow?
Get Your Paperwork in Order
  • Finalize and register your business name
  • Purchase practice insurance
  • Staffing – To operate efficiently you will need: administration staff and other therapists
  • Office Staff – Create a professional atmosphere to take care of the paperwork. They should be friendly and professional to give a good first impression of your practice.
  • Other Therapists – Reach out to your classmates, let them know that you’re starting a new practice. What about colleagues that you’ve worked with in the past? Use social media to reach out and find other therapists.
  • Equip Your Practice – You will need: treatment tables, furniture and office supplies to make your practice feel comfortable and efficient.
GST/HST exemption for Acupuncture services

In certain circumstances, a supply of an acupuncture service is exempt from the GST/HST pursuant to section 7 of Part II of Schedule V. For the exemption to apply, all of the following conditions must be met:

  • the service is an acupuncture service for GST/HST purposes;
  • the acupuncture service is rendered to an individual by a practitioner of acupuncture services (for example, a Registered Acupuncturist or Registered Traditional Chinese Medicine Practitioner);
  • the acupuncture service is a qualifying health care supply as defined in section 1 of Part II of Schedule V; and
  • the acupuncture service is not a cosmetic service supply or a supply, in respect of a cosmetic service supply, that is not made for medical or reconstructive purposes pursuant to section 1.1 of Part II of Schedule V.

For more information go to Application of the GST/HST to the Practice of Acupuncture

Marketing Strategy – should align with your business plan, and the focus should be on attracting and retaining clients. It should cultivate multiple lead and referral sources as well. Include the following in your marketing strategy:

  • Your business goals
  • Mission and Vision Statements
  • Target Market
  • Strategies for reaching your target audience
  • Budget

Online Presence – New clients will look for acupuncturists online. Even if you are referred to, they will do their research. It is helpful to have a website, social media channels. Marketing and social media can be overwhelming. You can hire someone to do this for you.

Website – Should cover who you are, what you offer how to contact you. Consider hiring a professional website developer as it can take time. You want to create an excellent first impression on a potential client by using your website. Include:

  • Branding: logo and colour scheme
  • Optimized for mobile
  • Load quickly
  • Your contact details and links to your social channels
  • SEO basics
  • Blog page

Social Media – Determine which social media channels your target market use and build a presence. Top social media platforms used by acupuncturists:

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • LinkedIn


  • Google My Business is a free, easy to use tool that allows you as the practice owner to manage your online presence including Google Maps and Google Search.
  • Yelp can also become a potential source of new clients as you grow your reputation.

Building Offline Referral Sources – Connecting and chatting with new people and putting yourself out there. Consider attending a local breakfast networking event for business owners in your area, or send a few emails to local GPs to ask if you could show them how your practice could benefit their patients.

Build Relationships with other Health Professionals – Sharing what your practice offers to other health practitioners. Have business cards with QR codes and flyers available for their patients.

Join Community Events – Get involved in the community and offer your services to a local charity or community group. You can join other businesses in the area when they meet up at networking events.

Collecting Testimonials- Careful with testimonials. The CTCMPAO prohibits their use. Testimonials often express an opinion about the nature and quality of a practitioner’s service and can mislead the public. This includes testimonials on Third-Party websites such as Google my Business and Yelp. However, you can speak to facts about acupuncture and herbs.

Running Your Practice Effectively

Choose Practice Management Software – There are many different software options available. Examples: Jane App, OutSmart, EMR and Acusimple. Choose one that:

  • you can scale
  • is easy
  • intuitive
  • offers neccessay functionality
  • affordable.

Look for software that offers:

  • Online bookings and confirmations
  • Client note template
  • Customizable invoicing and payments;
  • Competitive month-to-month pricing;
  • A money-back guarantee and limited support.
  • PIPEDA and/or HIPPA compliant

Get Help with Your Finances – Like many acupuncturists, you might be doing the books yourself. Consider a bookkeeper and/or accountant who has experience helping small businesses or health practices. They can give you good all the financial advice and save you time with bookkeeping.

Keep a Growth Mindset – To grow and attract a steady stream of new clients, you must think about new ideas. What do you need to do to expand your business?

  • Hiring another therapist?
  • Focusing on marketing to increase client volume?
  • Adding a new service or product for you clients?

Acupuncture Career in a Hospital

Acupuncture is being incorporated in hospital services. Increasingly, acupuncturists are working alongside medical practitioners to deliver multidisciplinary care programs for people with a wide range of conditions.

There’s never been a better time to choose a career in acupuncture.

Ontario Hospitals that incorporate acupuncture as an adjunct therapy.

  • Mount Sinai – Rebecca MacDonald Centre for Arthritis and Autoimmune Disease
  • Sunnybrook – St. John’s Rehab’s Acupuncture Clinic
  • Toronto Western Hospital – Addictions Outpatient Services

Teaching Career as an Acupuncturist

Your career path as an acupuncturist can lead you to teach. After a number of years of practice, you may want to consider teaching. Share what you have learned with new students or your colleagues.

  1. Schools – you can teach any of the courses that are required by the TCM school or supervise the student clinic.
  2. Online course – You can design your own course and hold a virtual webinar.
  3. Workshops/seminars – If you can teach anything you have a special interest in that would appeal to acupuncturists. Techniques such as cupping, moxibustion or Tui-na. Perhaps you have taken courses on acupuncture for dermatology, pregnancy, or addictions. You can design your own workshop or seminar and promote it.

Your career path as an acupuncturist will provide you with many options. These are just a few. Take all your knowledge and find ways to reach more people. Educate and promote TCM as a viable health care option.