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Soc Sci Med. 1998 Feb-Mar; 46(4-5): 533-7.

The drive for professionalization in acupuncture: a preliminary view from the San Francisco Bay area.

Baer HA, Jen C, Tanassi LM, Tsia C, Wahbeh H.

Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Arkansas at Little Rock 72204, USA.

Although various biomedical physicians and chiropractors now employ acupuncture, generally as an adjunct therapy to their practices, acupuncture is quickly evolving into a professionalized heterodox medical system in various areas of the United States. This process has overlapped considerably with the rise of the holistic health movement. Acupuncture particularly obtained public recognition and political legitimation in California, where about one half of all the licensed acupuncturists in the U.S. presently practice. In part drawing upon case studies that various students conducted in a course titled "Medical Pluralism in North America and Europe" that one of the authors taught at Berkeley in the spring of 1994, this paper examines several aspects of the drive for professionalization within acupuncture in the San Francisco Bay area, one of the major centers of acupuncture in the U.S. Other major centers of the holistic health movement include New York, Boston, Washington, DC, Houston, Seattle, and Santa Fe. It considers two dimensions involved in the professionalization of acupuncture: (1) the creation of schools of traditional Chinese medicine and acupressure and (2) accommodation to the biomedical model. The essay also explores the health policy implications of the emergence of acupuncture as a professionalized heterodox medical system that views itself as an alternative or complementary form of primary health care.

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