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What Are We Taught in Four Years of Acupuncture School?

People often ask me how long I studied for to become and acupuncturist, and are surprised to find that to become qualified it is a 4 year Bachelor of Health Science Degree.

Let me tell you, there is a lot more to learning how to practice acupuncture than just finding out where to stick the needles!

Year One

Year one was amazing, I absolutely loved it! It was like stepping into a different way of thinking, and a different world view.

We learnt about various philosophies including:

  • Shamanism, Daoism, Confucianism and Buddhism

  • Yin and Yang theory, 5 Phase Theory, San Jiao Theory

  • Qi, Channels and the functions of the different organs.

Though a lot of the time it was difficult to grasp these ideas we had never heard of before, the fascination outweighed the difficulties.

Then we had the other side of our school (literally on the other side of the building!) that was dedicated to western medicine where we learned all about:

  • The musculo-skeletal system

  • Anatomy and physiology

  • Microbiology

We learned that kidneys consist of microscopic "nephron" filters, that the "rotator cuff" of the shoulder actually consists of four muscles, and that E-coli is a "gram negative" bacteria.

We even got to investigate a cow's knee, and inflate and deflate sheep lungs!

Year Two

Whoohoo, we finally got to stick some needles in! There were six students in my class, and year two was spent practicing needling each other and being needled by our tutors.

Year two was also about learning what happens when things go wrong in the body.

In our Western Medicine class we were taught about pathophysiology and learned about a spectrum of conditions from ischemic heart disease, kidney failure and urinary tract infections, to inguinal hernias and why tendons take so long to heal after a tear.

We also learned about Chinese Medicine pathologies and the signs and symptoms relating to the different organs and channels.

Year Three

We were unleashed upon the public! We began 6 hours a week of practice in our school clinic with a supervisor.

We had a diagnostics class where we could bring our difficult cases in, learned about pharmacology (medications), produced case reports, and learned about patients rights and the Treaty of Waitangi.

Year three was a difficult year for me, we were just over half way through our study, but we still had the difficulties of fourth year looming ahead, and there was a lot going on with my family and personal life.

But I made it through!

Fourth Year

In fourth year we gained experience treating pregnancy conditions at the Hutt Hospital, and the Tawa Womens Prison, while also continuing our 6 hours per week at school.

When I think back to my final year of acupuncture school, all I can think is research. Fourth year was all about research.

Today's world demands modern research be the proof of many things. So to be successful acupuncturists we needed to learn how to interpret research articles, determine whether they were rigorously controlled or if they were baised, and be able to present reports that concluded the results of various research articles.

Small business managment was also on the agenda, and I still distinctly remember having the acu-point 'Bladder 1' needled by my classmate Zohar in the Chinese Medical Specialties class.

And not because it had anything strange to do with my bladder, but because it lies between the eyeball and the eye socket! (And it honestly didn't hurt at all.)

Image Source: Deadman, P. & Al-Khafaji, M. (2007). A manual of acupuncture (2nd ed.). East Sussex: Journal of Chinese Medicine Publications.


Just as our tutors promised us when we graduated, our patients became our teachers.

There is always going to be a patient with a condition I've never heard of, taking medications I need to research, or someone who doesn't respond to my standard acupuncture treatment for a certain condition.

Being an acupuncturist means being a life long learner!

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