What is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese medicine?

What is Traditional Chinese Medicine?

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) is a complete medical system that has been used to diagnose, treat, and prevent illnesses for more than 2,000 years. Just like Western medicine, is a complete medical system used to diagnose, treat and prevent illness, so is Traditional Chinese Medicine. 

What is the history of TCM?

The first writings about TCM date back to 200 BCE. Herbal medicine and acupuncture, including theory, practice, diagnosis, and treatment, were recorded in classical Chinese texts and refined over many centuries.

The practice of TCM stayed in Asia for centuries and Chinese immigrants had been practicing TCM in the United States since the mid-19th century, but its existence was unknown to most Americans before 1971, and in many states within The United States, it is still relatively unknown

What is a Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine?


It can take 5-7 years of study to complete a Doctorate Program in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine, and there are not that many schools that offer this degree yet  in the United States. One of those schools that offer a Doctoral program in traditional Chinese medicine, is Emperor’s College in Santa Monica, CA. Both the Masters Degree i TCM, and the Doctoral degree, requires concurrent studies of Western medicine. The prerequisites are the same pre-med requisites as a Western MD is required to take. The same pathology and internal medicine courses are also required for the Masters in TCM, in the state of California. 


The Doctor of Traditional Chinese Medicine  deeply explores areas of Traditional Chinese Medicine such as psychology, and physical medicine, using both western medicine and the classic texts that first recorded the principles of this powerful and ancient system of medicine.

TCM therapy largely consists of: 

1. Chinese Herbal Medicine

2. Acupuncture 

3. Dietary therapy, 4. TuiNa (massage) 

5. Cupping

6. Guasha 

7. Tai Qi

The various states in America have different requirements, and for example in Utah, a chiropractor can practice acupuncture without having a license specifically in acupuncture. While this may seem convenient, it does mean that the quality of diagnosis and treatment will drastically be reduced. Imagine if an acupuncturist could take a weekend course in Western medicine and then be permitted to practice. It is the same thing. If you decide to get acupuncture, make sure that you are going to a licensed acupuncturist.

The license to practice acupuncture varies from state to state.

C.A. – Certified acupuncturist. This means that an acupuncture school has granted this person a certificate of completion. School programs can vary from 200 hours of training to 2,000 hours. Some school programs include herbal medicine training, some don’t. A CA is not necessarily a license to practice.

L.Ac. – Licensed Acupuncturist. This is a license to practice. These practitioners have passed state board examinations. In California and New Mexico, these acupuncturists are primary care physicians, which means you can use them as your doctor. They can order lab tests, do physical exams, accept insurance (when it covers acupuncture), and supervise Workers Comp cases. Acupuncturists cannot perform surgery and can prescribe only “drugless substances”. 

O.M.D. or D.O.M. – Doctor of Oriental Medicine is a a doctoral degree.  There are only a  few schools that offer real OMD or DOM degrees in the West. Many acupuncturists who display these initials, do so because they have registered to practice in the states of Nevada or New Mexico, which permit them to use this title. Acupuncturists from all over the country have paid high registration fees to these states in order to legally use the initials of Dr. so make sure that you are seeing a real Doctor of TCM. 

Dipl. Ac. or Dipl. Herb – Diplomate in Acupuncture. – Diplomate in Herbology. The bearer of these initials has passed a NCCAOM (National Committee for the Certification of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine) examination, and is a dues paying member of the NCCAOM. There are four separate exams,  Foundations of Oriental Medicine (FOM), Acupuncture and Point Location (Acu/PL), Bio-Medicine and Chinese Herbs for acupuncture and herbs. A licensed acupuncturist in the State of California has met the requirements of the four separate NCCAOM exams.

M.D. (China) – Medical Doctor, licensed only in China. Physicians trained in Western medicine in China are not allowed to practice Western medicine in the U.S. Many of them, unable to practice Western medicine in the U.S. take up the practice of TCM or Oriental medicine instead, but  these initials don’t indicate any training in Oriental medicine. Being from China and being an MD does not mean that you have any training in TCM, acupuncture or herbology.

What Traditional Chinese Medicine Jobs are Available?

With a degree in traditional Chinese medicine, you can:

  • Start your own practice.
  • Work as an associate in a group practice.
  • Work in integrative health care facilities, multidisciplinary clinics and medical centers.
  • Work in hospitals.
  • Teach, conduct research and publish academic works.
  • Work with an herbal pharmacy, creating herbal formula prescriptions for your patients.

To practice Oriental medicine, graduates must also pass the licensing examinations conducted by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).(Or specific additional requirements as for example in the state of California.)

How is Traditional Chinese medicine different from Western medicine?

Western medicine takes a physical approach to the body, while Holistic Medicine takes a whole-body approach.

The reductionist approach in Western medicine is rooted in philosophy, while the whole-body approach in traditional Chinese medicine is based on various principles and traditions, all of which emphasize non-invasive practices  (bodywork, etc.), natural products over chemical pharmaceuticals, and the body’s ability to heal itself.  The mind-body-soul connection is part of a Taoist philosophy, just like the reductionist and compartmentalized Western approach is also rooted in the traditions and philosophies of the west. TCM is a complete medicine that includes the physical body, and mental and emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Traditional Chinese Medicine and Taoism

Just as Western medicine has been influenced by European philosophy, so has Traditional Chinese Medicine  been influenced by the Ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism. In order to properly understand Traditional Chinese Medicine, it is necessary to understand Taoism. It is impossible to understand TCM from a western medicine, or western philosophical starting point.

Taoism is a system of sciences, not a religion. 

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