Finding a reputable acupuncturist shouldn’t be too difficult if you know what to look for. There a few key things to take into consideration. First, you want to be able to verify that they are appropriately licensed. Acupuncturists are required by their individual state, to have a license. This license is usually given to a practitioner by the State’s Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) or Department of Health (DOH) via that state’s Acupuncture Board. You can just do a web search for your state’s Acupuncture board or DCA/DOH and see all of the different categories of licensed professionals. For the sake of example, here’s an example of Florida’s DOH acupuncture license lookup. You should be able to find a category for acupuncture. From there, just enter the person’s name and/or license number, and it will show you a record of this person’s license. Basically, you just want to see that it’s “active/clear” (or similar wording). It will also show you if a person has let their license lapse or expire, and any disciplinary actions they may have had. This is a good place to start.
There are some other credentials to look for but, for the most part, a person will not be able to obtain a license from their state unless they have these credentials. Certifications in Acupuncture and/or Oriental Medicine from the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) is the standard by which most states grant acupuncture licenses. Certain states like California, have their own exam for licensing practitioners, therefore, they do not use the NCCAOM credentialing system (although this will be changing over the course of the next few years).
Aside from these factors, you may want to ask if your practitioner has had experience in treating the condition in question. Acupuncturists are like their western medical counterparts in the sense that they often have specialties. You wouldn’t go to a podiatrist to treat an internal medicine issue, and the same may be true with choosing an acupuncturist, although, it’s not usually such a dramatic difference. Typically, acupuncturists are fairly well rounded and can treat a variety of disorders, however, there are practitioners who focus more on orthopedic disorders, fertility issues, internal medicine, etc. Another factor to consider is assessing how long they’ve been in practice, however, this may or may not be indicative of their skill. A more seasoned practitioner may not necessarily be better, however, if you’re concerned with this, you can find out how long they’ve been licensed from doing a license verification (as was discussed earlier).
Another factor to consider is the practitioner’s level of education. For the most part, practitioners in the US will have a Master’s degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. The wording may be different for the title of the Master’s degree, but the education is all standardized by the accrediting commission for acupuncture schools. The agency that grants accreditation to acupuncture schools in the US is called the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). Graduates of ACAOM accredited or candidate schools (or other qualified institutions) are eligible to sit for the NCCAOM examination. There are practitioners who may have taken other routes towards attaining their licenses, but these cases are relatively few.
There are many programs that offer degrees beyond the Master’s level, but a person really only needs to have completed a Masters degree program (or equivalent) to go through the process of obtaining a license. There are, however, Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM) programs and PhD programs (in China) that a person may have gone through. Typically, these are an additional 2–3 years beyond the Master’s level. Again, this may not mean that a person is more skilled than someone with just a Master’s degree, but it does indicate that they’ve dedicated a considerable amount of time, effort and expense in pursuing a higher degree than what’s required to practice by state law. It’s also an indication that this person has undergone extensive clinical training beyond the Master’s level.
The best way to choose a practitioner may just be by talking with a practitioner face to face. Many acupuncturists offer complimentary consultations, where you’re free to ask all of the questions that you may have, and to really get a feel for the person. In my opinion, this, and utilizing a referral from a friend or colleague, are two of the best ways to find a good practitioner.