‘Remember that during Covid, NMSAAM held a completely virtual Town Hall on November 22, 2021. Every DOM that attended was adamantly opposed to having an acupuncture licensure without herbal medicine in NM. Thus, it was surprising later to learn that there are some DOMs who do want to go back to the early days of acupuncture licensure in New Mexico, then called LAc, which did not include herbal medicine. Were NM LAcs really in the good old days back then?

On July 16, 2023, NMSAAM sponsored another Town Hall, now mostly in-person, in response to the tabled bill SB 421 from the 2023 legislative session, which would have added an acupuncture licensure without herbal medicine. Some of the DOMs in attendance remember the LAc days. It was good to hear their point of view. Some of the proponents of an acupuncture licensure without herbal medicine were “grandfathered in” to being DOM’s after the old LAc licensure was upgraded to DOM with the addition of herbal medicine.

The goal was to dialogue with other DOMs, with those who want to become DOMs, and with those who prefer to change our scope of practice so that they can legally practice in NM, such as one who is currently practicing acupuncture as a LAc (MD) in the Jemez Pueblo, a sovereign nation. This Maryland licensed acupuncturist wants to practice in other rural areas of NM, which she can’t legally do now until she learns herbal medicine and passes all of the four NCCAOM national exams, none of which she has taken. SB421 was her bill.

Remember that the NCCAOM national exams are designed to test basic minimal competency. We also have an enviable psychometrically designed state clinical skills exam that demonstrates basic clinical problem solving competency.

NM DOMs can actually apply for acupuncture positions at the Veterans Health Administration. Like New Mexico, the VA has high competency and safety standards. It is necessary to have graduated from an accredited acupuncture and herbal medicine school, pass all of the NCCAOM exams, obtain a license in at least one state, and keep the NCCAOM Diplomate current. These positions are few, but they are increasing.

Our Town Hall schedule opened with the first half hour of two speakers talking about herbal medicine and about national distribution statewide of acupuncture and herbal medicine. Then we had 4 scheduled speakers, 2 proponents and 2 opponents to the acupuncture licensure without herbal medicine proposal, such as the tabled SB421. Each had 10 minutes. See speakers listed at https://nmsaam.org/herbal-medicine-in-the-usa/.Then we had an ordered open floor, with 10 min for each in the room and online to speak until 4:30, beginning with DOMs.

Times have changed during the 42 years of NM licensure. Many more states have acupuncture licensure now. “LAc” no longer always means acupuncture without herbal medicine, as there are now 34/47 states who have herbal medicine in their scopes of practice. Three states currently do not have a license and scope of practice for acupuncturists. See https://nmsaam.org/herbal-medicine-in-the-usa/. Most of them use the term LAc’s. In NM, we are DOM’s, Doctor of Oriental Medicine, and in Florida, they are AP’s, Acupuncture Physicians.

The NM standards grew with the times during these 42 years. NM’s scope of practice, like California, is a beacon for many states.  One of the goals for NM that was mentioned back at the virtual Town Hall in 2021 was to have reciprocity of licensure with other states. Thanks to our NMBAOM, including Drs. Brandon Taylor and Nityamo Lian, we do now have that as of last December with four states that also have high standards: Texas, Florida, Arkansas, and Nevada. Dr. Taylor said that once acupuncturists in good standing from these states apply to our NMBAOM, they will receive a license within 30 days, with the stipulation that they pass the NM clinical skills exam within the renewal year.

During the July 16th Town Hall, NMSAAM showed that there are other ways to learn herbal medicine in order to take the NCCAOM herbal exam and become a DOM. We also learned from Dr. Taylor that NCCAOM is working on an alternate route for Diplomates for Californian acupuncturists.  Thus soon, there will be 5 states with licensure reciprocity with NM, a potential for even more new DOM’s in the Land of Enchantment, which would be helpful. NM already has one of the highest per capita numbers of acupuncturists in the nation, comparable to California, which we learned on July 16 from Dr. Taylor and his research.

The answer to bringing more acupuncture to our rural communities is NOT decreasing standards. The answer is Medicaid and Medicare access. Many of our fellow New Mexicans in rural communities are lower income earners. Having DOM’s in these reimbursement schemes would grant more access in rural New Mexico. Another answer is to pass the rural tax credit bill. It is pure speculation that acupuncture without herbal medicine practitioners would serve our rural areas.

Join NMSAAM now, where your dues help support our lobbyists, who have and will continue to meet our goals for acupuncture to move forward instead of backwards in NM, without losing any of our traditional medicine. We are communicating with the NM Superintendent of Insurance about opening up insurance panels, as they have been closed, necessitating direct pay for some acupuncture.

It was appropriate and good to hear different points of view at this last Town Hall. Personally, I am not convinced that the perceived benefits for just a few would outweigh the detriments for many by adding the herbless acupuncture licensure, that rural needs would be met, or that NM competency and safety standards would be met. One of the DOMs that supports it wants to retire and be able sell her practice in Albuquerque to a potential larger pool.

Do you want to lower NM standards to the few states that do not require any of the NCCAOM national exams that indicate minimal basic competency? Our excellent  standards have been called obstacles by proponents of SB421. Would you prefer instead to continue to have New Mexico be a leader and a beacon in our current scope of practice?

Join NMSAAM NOW and we can figure this out to move forward and make a difference!

Please note: This Article was revised 09/22/23 to fine tune some details and to correct “tiered licensure” to “acupuncture licensure without herbal medicine,’ as NM already has tiered licensures with 1) Acudetox 2) DOM’s and 3) DOM’s that are trained in injection therapy; RX 1,2, &3. 

This article expresses the opinions and research of the author, and does not necessarily reflect all views or policies of NMSAAM members, the NMSAAM BOD, the NCCAOM, or the ASA.