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Study acupuncture, bodywork, or a combination?


I have been interested in chinese medicine for a long time and have contemplated changing careers for awhile. I have a degree in Biology and have been working in clinical research for the past 4.5 years in Boston. My concern is mostly financial since acupuncture school is expensive and starting my own practice is expensive.

I am moving to TX in a year, but I have an opportunity to train in acupressure shiatsu (550 hour certification) before I leave. It is less school and a lot cheaper, but I wanted to find out whether I would be very limited then in practicing tcm? I would continue to study chinese medicine and other therapies (including tong ren), but would it be a mistake to not just go initially for acupuncture school?

For awhile I considered doing the acupressure program, opening up a practice, and then when I had enough clients to support me, go to acupuncture school. I was told this probably wasn't a good idea, since maintaining a practice AND going to school is a lot of work and not realistic. Most people have told me to do nursing school, since it would allow me more financial stability, serve as a great flexible job while in acu school, and complement an eastern medicine practice. My problem with nursing - a lot of stress and i'm fairly squeemish. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!


Generally speaking both eastern bodywork and acupuncture are tough fields to actually make it in. Lots of people do, but far more do not. Certainly with acupuncture school the expense is immense both for school and the funds to start and build up a practice compared to nursing where you can get a job out of school and bodywork where your needs (but also your income potential) are far less. My only reason for saying this is to make sure you have an absolute passion for whichever field you choose (eastern medicine, bodywork, western nursing, etc.) - they are, after all, very different from eachother. They all have significant plusses and minuses, but with the right passion (even if you have to have a side job for years to make it) you will enjoy it.

My own personal path was years of private training in bodywork, Chinese Medicine, medical qi gong, martial arts, etc. Then when I felt I had learned too much to not use I went to Shiatsu school (sort of for the expense factor) and after having that experience I wanted more so I went to graduate school for acupuncture. I know others who followed the same route.

I also trained privately for years before, during, and after school - which is important. Now I&#39m biased in two ways - one because this is how I did it and two because I heavily use tuina in my acupuncture practice - but personally I feel starting with bodywork and going to acupuncture school afterwards (all finance issues aside) was a fantastic way to start. This is particularly true as the training in tuina and other forms of eastern bodywork is tremendously lacking in acupuncture school and it is crucial (in my opinion) for both good clinical results and for developing an excellent energetic feel for the points and the body. Personally, I feel everyone should go that route....

Financially acupuncture school and starting and building a practice is tough - don&#39t get any illusions about this. The failure rates are extremely high. If you want to practice medicine, however, you need to go to acupuncture school at some point. Your earnings potential, if you succeed, is much higher with acupuncture as you can see more patients both at a time and total compared to bodywork. It just depends what you are drawn to, however.

If you are torn I would strongly recommend apprenticing with someone before you bite the bullet and go to school - just follow them around for a few days (and ideally more than a few practitioners). See what it&#39s like in the "real" world and discuss with them their successes and failures. Then if it seems like a fit, just go for it. And while this is far ahead of the game, just some advice -- make sure when you start your business you do it as a corporation, not as sole propietorship, so you don&#39t lose all of your personal assets if you start having trouble business-wise.... Many people think the initial expense and complexity is not worth it but it might just save your house and your car :)

All that critical reality aside, Chinese Medicine, is a fascinating field to work in and I wouldn&#39t trade my chosen occupation for anything. There are not many jobs where you can honestly say you love going to work and you are making a difference in peoples lives every single day. It can be grueling and challenging business-wise if you are not at least somewhat skilled in finances and have a good touch of luck, but the day to day work is worth the initial expenses and problems. Most of these can be avoided by studying privately with successful acupuncturists and learning how they do well before you go off on your own - most acupuncture colleges do not offer anywhere near enough information on this subject....

I hope that is at least somewhat helpful and I wish you the best of luck!


Hi Chad,

Thank you very much for the detailed advice. I realize the difficulty most practitioners have in regard to opening and maintaining a practice. I also know that many people fail at it - all reasons why I have gone back and forth about pursuing it. I love chinese medicine and have always wanted to do it career-wise, but have also always wondered whether I could successfully run my own practice. I know that I have the passion, but sometimes question whether that&#39s enough...that the debt/business troubles might cause me to dislike it. I guess if that happened though, then it wouldn&#39t truly be a passion :) The acupuncturist that I have seen for the past several years gives me "behind-the-scenes" business info and ideas of what it is like to run a practice, but I have never formally shadowed her or any acupuncturists, so that might be something for me to consider.

I agree that bodywork would be a great entry-way into chinese medicine, allowing me to familiarize myself with points and qi, but wouldn&#39t necessarily make the most sense financially. I just always thought that doing bodywork would be a great way (without as much financial risk) to test whether I could run my own business. If I did well, then I would continue on to acupuncture school. If not, then I could reconsider my plans. I think that&#39s great that that&#39s how you got started! Thank you again for all your insight! You gave me some points to definitely ponder!

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