What do all those letters mean?!?

New patients are often confused at the very, very wide array of alphabet soup after a Chinese medicine practitioner’s name. In western medicine, every doctor is either an MD (Doctor of Medicine) or DO (Doctor of Osteopathy). All chiropractors are DCs (Doctors of Chiropractic). However, this sort of uniformity is really missing from the world of Chinese medicine. So, to make things easier to understand, here is a guide to the most commonly seen designations in the US.


Licensed Acupuncturist. This is the most common license title used for practitioners of Chinese medicine in the United States. In any given state all licensed practitioners, regardless of their academic degrees, get the same license designation. Title will vary in some states, and in places like New Mexico (and a few others), license titles include the word “doctor” (e.g., Doctor of Oriental Medicine in New Mexico). However, this does not mean that the person has an actual doctoral degree (most often they don’t!).

Dipl Ac, Dipl CH, Dipl OM

Diplomate of Acupuncture, Diplomate in Chinese Herbology, Diplomate in Oriental MedicineThese are board certifications given by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. The highest tier of board certification is the Diplomate of Oriental Medicine, as it encompasses both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine.


Master of Acupuncture, Master of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. The entry level to practice Chinese medicine in the United States is a master’s degree. Hopefully the provider had a conventional bachelor’s degree before entering their Chinese medicine program. For example, in NJ, all licensed practitioners are required to have a bachelor’s degree. Some of the oldest and most respected schools of Chinese medicine in the US, such as the New England School of Acupuncture, require a bachelor’s degree as an entry requirement. Unfortunately this is not the case with all schools, or even all states. So, buyers need to beware. Other master’s degree designations include MSTOM, MSOM, MSAc. They are all essentially the same in length and scope and take about 3 years to earn.

Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine, Doctor of Science in Oriental Medicine. These are accredited first professional doctoral degrees. These degrees are not advanced professional degrees and require no independent research. In essence, they are equivalent to a master’s degree in the field, although take slightly longer to earn (sometimes the only coursework beyond the master’s degree is entirely online).


Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. This is an advanced clinical doctorate, and currently the highest degree in the field awarded in the United States. The DAOM requires an additional 2 years of study beyond a master’s degree and is thus significantly longer than the first professional doctorate. It cannot be earned online. The DAOM also requires some sort of research project, and gives formal training in a specialty field (this is the only degree in the US that gives formal specialty training).


Oriental Medicine Doctor. These degrees are mostly seen in California where they were conferred for a short period of time quite awhile ago. These degrees were unaccredited and because of that are illegal to use in many states.


Doctor of Philosophy. A PhD is the highest-level graduate degree offered in most countries. It is awarded after several years of study beyond a master’s degree and requires independent research and the writing of a formal thesis (that is much more extensive than what is needed for a clinical doctoral degree such as the DAOM). Currently there are no accredited PhD programs in Chinese medicine offered in the United States (currently the only PhDs in acupuncture or Chinese medicine are awarded by universities in China or other Asian nations).