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The Difference between a Licensing Board and a State Association

Dr. Nell July 2, 2020


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I realized when I attended (and when I was prepping for) the latest California Acupuncture Board meeting how confused people are about what the board actually does. We are particularly prone to this confusion in California because we do not use NCCAOM as our licensing exam, and it’s common to need some clarification as to what the board does versus what a professional association does.

What is a state association? Is there more than one per state? What does a state association do?

There are state and national associations and their primary role is to look out for what’s in the best interest of the profession. Many professions have professional associations. For our industry of acupuncture, Chinese Medicine and Integrative Medicine (which I’d argue are more like a Venn diagram and have some overlap but are also separate industries) are all areas that are advancing and yet still need some help when it comes to bringing these concepts into the mainstream. Advocacy work around issues affecting the future of our profession is a key role of professional associations.

There are many professional associations in California, CSOMA being one of them. I currently have the privilege to serve as the president as CSOMA, after first sitting on their board. However, there are many other associations, associations which CSOMA has a great collaborative relationship with. Why so many? Because we have an incredibly diverse profession and one third of all the acupuncturists in the US are in California. As you can imagine, not every practitioner has the same opinions, desires or agenda. There are some things all professions could agree on, but there are many interests to navigate and prioritize. State associations like CSOMA and National Associations like ASA (American Society of Acupuncturists) do the lion’s share of advocacy work for acupuncture and Chinese Medicine.

So the California Acupuncture Board doesn’t advocate for the profession? What does the California Acupuncture Board do?

Well, advocacy is not their job. The California Acupuncture Board’s main function is to ensure public safety. This is one of the reasons why the exam administered by the board is heavy on clinical material, to make sure once you get licensed you at a minimum will not harm anyone. The California Acupuncture Board also has the responsibility of administering an exam for licensure.

This primary focus and responsibility of public safety is also why in school, you are not taught many of the vital things to be successful beyond clinical information, such as business and how to effectively communicate what we do and how we do it. Because the board is primarily concerned with public safety, your exams will also be primarily concerned with testing your clinical knowledge rather than your business acumen.

And while I’m happy to be here for you all and help you work through navigating the business world, I can share in the frustration of not having clarity on who does what and feeling ill prepared when entering the profession. I can also understand wanting a seemingly powerful body like the California Acupuncture Board do more than enforce rules, but that’s what they are there for at this point.

This does not mean the California Acupuncture Board does not have opinions or positions on things. They send letters to bill authors with their position, but their position is made known publicly when a bill involves public safety. They do not necessarily get involved with other factors that we as practitioners deem important, like protecting scope or practice, or the growth and prosperity of the profession.

For legislative change, state associations or other individuals within the profession need to advocate and lobby for the interest of the profession and it’s growth.

Still need some additional clarification? Comment below or email me directly with questions.

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Dr. Nell

Empowering listeners with information to enhance their own personal and social awareness in the vital areas of: recovery, lifestyle and true optimization of human performance. Dr. Nell is a Licensed Acupuncturist and the founder of PIQUE Health, a private practice in Beverly Hills.

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