Choosing a Chinese Medicine Practitioner

How should I choose a Chinese Medicine practitioner?

Here are the key points to consider:

1) Training & licensing

2) Are you looking for acupuncture, herbs or both?


Training and licensure for Chinese Medicine in the U.S. requires three to four years (3000+ hours) of postgraduate study. In the State of Colorado, acupuncturists must be licensed and certified. To obtain a license, they are required to pass a national licensing examination consisting of multiple modules, including Chinese medicine theory and practice as well as Western biomedicine, given by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM).

On the other hand, medical doctors and osteopaths may practice acupuncture in Colorado without any specific training. Chiropractors need only 100 hours of theory and supervised clinical instruction to practice acupuncture.

It is strongly recommended to look for a practitioner with formal training, national certification, and an active license in the practice of Oriental Medicine. Oriental Medicine is an art and a science that takes years to master. There are many styles of acupuncture, and many levels of advanced training that a practitioner may pursue. As a patient, you should feel free to ask about the training and credentials of any potential health care practitioner. Different styles of acupuncture suit different people.

Herbal Medicine

Herbal medicine is the most difficult aspect of Chinese medicine to practice. It also can make all the difference in the treatment of many internal medicine disorders, such as fertility, emotional problems, women’s issues, digestive disorders, etc. Hence, not only is proper training mandatory, but it requires ongoing study to practice safely and effectively. For better or worse, in the state of Colorado, any kind of practitioner, such as a chiropractor, can “legally” prescribe Chinese herbs without any licensing.

Therefore, if your practitioner prescribes herbs, there are a few things to consider. Upon questioning, no one will actually admit to not being adequately trained, but there are a few key giveaway signs.

  • If the practitioner does not write individual prescriptions for each patient and just gives prepackaged/ premade products this indicates that their skill and commitment to herbal medicine is not that high. Granted, sometimes such a simplified approach is best, but this method should be the exception rather than the rule.
  • If the practitioner chooses your herbs based on muscle testing or uses some machine, this is not Chinese medicine. Again, one may get a formula that works great with these methods, however this is most likely due to chance and is not supported or taught in Chinese medicine schools.
  • If your practitioner is giving you bulk herbs or granular herbs that are mixed together, it is important to know that the pharmacy is active and you are not receiving aged medicinals. Although these older herbs will most likely not harm you, their active ingredients will be significantly diminished. You should feel free to ask your practitioner questions revealing how long the herbs have been around. Usually grassy / leafy herbs are only good for about six months. Ask your practitioner to smell and touch the herbs that you will consume in your body. We love to show patients all of the different medicinals that comprise their formula, and are happy to answer any questions about our pharmacy.
  • Currently there are many pesticides and heavy metals that contaminate Chinese herbs. Unfortunately, many practitioners  purchase cheaper quality herbs to make profit in selling to patients. All practitioners when asked will most likely say their herbs are safe and tested. This is again unfortunately not true. If they are not buying from Spring Wind herbs and secondarily from Mayway, then such herbs just do not have rigorous testing. Our pharmacy is run non-profit, we buy only the cleanest herbs, which are sometimes significantly more expensive, but because we run our pharmacy for non-profit we can actually sell our herbs at a competitive price and many times less than some others. See more about our pharmacy and our quality insurance.

Open Gate Acupuncture, located in Boulder Colorado, serves patients throughout the Boulder county region including Denver, Longmont, Gunbarrel, Lafayette, & Louisville. Jason Blalack has been treating patients in Boulder for over 14 years after graduating from Pacific College of Oriental Medicine. Jason is an international lecturer on Chinese medicine and has an extensive collection of Chinese medicine articles published in professional journals worldwide. Jason specializes in autoimmune, digestive disorders, fertility, and emotional disorders at the Open Gate Acupuncture Clinic and also via long distance & online medical consultations.