Published: March 19, 2021

producing traditional chinese medicine

Traditional Chinese Medicine is one of the fastest-growing forms of healthcare in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH), Americans now spend billions of dollars on complementary and alternative therapies each year.

As the demand for integrative medicine rises, so does the need for qualified practitioners and the number of educational programs available to students. There has never been a better time to invest in certification in this field.

Why Should I Become a Certified TCM Practitioner?

Just like MDs, US-based TCM practitioners must be properly trained and certified and must adhere to rules ensuring their licensing and training are up-to-date. Earning a TCM diploma and certification is not just a way to gain a deep understanding of Chinese medicine. Certification shows employers, patients, and peers that you received comprehensive training and meet rigorous national standards for the safe, competent, and caring practice of TCM. National board certification in your area of specialty is a widely recognized hallmark of excellence.


The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM) provides national board certification for Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. Established in 1982, NCCAOM was formed to advance the professional practice of acupuncture and Oriental medicine (AOM) in the United States by establishing evidence-based competence and credentialing standards. It is the only national organization that validates entry-level competency through professional TCM certification.

Individuals who earn NCCAOM certification are known as Diplomates. Diplomates generally meet higher standards of training and competency verification than other healthcare professionals, such as chiropractors or naturopaths, who receive training in a TCM modality. These practitioners typically receive 100-300 hours of abbreviated training, while an NCCAOM-certified practitioner undergoes extensive clinical training averaging three to four years.

What Are the NCCAOM’s Certification Programs?

The NCCAOM offers three certifications:

  • Acupuncture
  • Chinese Herbology
  • Oriental Medicine (acupuncture and herbology)

What Are the Education Requirements for NCCAOM Certification?

To be eligible for an NCCAOM TCM certification, you must first complete your education. There are several avenues to meeting this requirement.

US-based applicants must complete three to four academic years of education at the master’s degree level in a program accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (ACAOM). The ACAOM is the only accrediting body recognized by the United States Department of Education as the authority for comprehensive education and training in AOM.

Applicants based outside the United States may qualify by completing an international education program with standards comparable to those of ACAOM. The program must be approved by a professional AOM organization as well as a foreign government’s department of health, education or equivalent agency.

Some US and international applicants may reach eligibility through a combination of formal education and apprenticeship.

What Are the Steps to NCCAOM Certification?

Once you have satisfied the education requirements, you may apply for NCCAOM certification through the following steps.

Complete the Online Application

All applications for NCCAOM certification are submitted online. If you trained in the United States, you may submit the application no more than 60 days before your graduation date. If you trained outside of the United States, you must complete the International Education Evaluation Review process in addition to your NCCAOM certification application. Application fees are due at the time you submit your application.

Submit Your Final Graduation Transcript

Request an official school transcript from your ACAOM-accredited education program. The school will directly provide your transcript to the NCCAOM. The education requirements differ depending on which certification you are seeking from the NCCAOM:

  • Certification in Acupuncture: master’s degree in Acupuncture or Oriental Medicine
  • Certification in Chinese Herbology: master’s degree in Acupuncture and a postgraduate certification in Chinese Herbology
  • Certification in Oriental Medicine: master’s degree in Oriental Medicine

Submit Your CNT Certificate

You must have completed an NCCAOM-approved practical course in Clean Needle Technique (CNT) within six years of your NCCAOM application. The course from the Council of Colleges of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (CCAOM) meets the NCCAOM’s requirements. Upon your request, the CCAOM will upload your certificate directly to the NCCAOM.

Receive Your ATTL

After the above paperwork has been reviewed and approved by the NCCAOM, you will receive an Authorization to Test Letter (ATTL). The ATTL will come in two formats: an email notification and a letter uploaded to your online application portal. This letter contains all the information you need to schedule, reschedule and/or cancel your examination appointment.

Prepare for Your Board Examination

Preparing for one of the most important exams of your life can be stressful. Fortunately, the NCCAOM provides a wealth of resources through its Exam Preparation Center. You’ll find exam content outlines in several languages, as well as practice tests available for purchase and answers to frequently asked questions. You will also receive an NCCAOM Candidate Preparation Handbook containing valuable information like what to expect at the test center and how the exams are scored.

Pass All Required Board Exams

It’s finally time to sit for your exams. You may schedule and take them in any order at your convenience. Bring your ATTL with you, as it may be required for entrance into the testing center. When you pass, congratulations — you are now an NCCAOM Diplomate! All of your required exams must be completed within four years of your application period.

I Earned my NCCAOM Certification — What Happens Next?

Your next step may be state licensing. Acupuncturists are currently required to be licensed in 47 states and the District of Columbia. Each state’s regulatory board has unique requirements for licensure. The NCCAOM has an interactive map that can help you learn more about the requirements in your state. When you’re ready, request that the NCCAOM sends your certification and exam verification to the appropriate state board.

You will need to maintain your NCCAOM certification when you go on to practice. Diplomates are expected to participate in a certain amount of Professional Development Activities (PDA) and must renew their certification every four years.

Supporting the Next Generation of TCM Practitioners

Modern interest in Traditional Chinese Medicine is a testament to the tremendous positive impact it has on people’s lives. At KPC, we love helping students who share our passion for continuing the long, rich history of TCM excel in their chosen careers. Subscribe to our mailing list for updates from the world of TCM, KPC news, and tips and tools for a successful practice. We also encourage students who are learning about herbs or practitioners looking for a reference book to contact us about receiving a free copy of Essential Herbal Formulas. It’s the perfect companion for TCM practitioners at any stage of their career.


*Please note: These statements have not been evaluated by the FDA. This article is not intended to suggest specific treatments for patients or that any supplements mentioned prevent or cure diseases or problems. Before taking any herbs, all patients should discuss their options with a licensed practitioner, including any other medications the patient is currently taking, as there may be contraindications between pharmaceuticals and herbs.


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