Complementary Medical Credentials: What the Letters Mean

It’s important to understand complementary medical credentials. Don’t be intimidated, they’re not difficult to understand — and it’s important to consult practitioners who have solid bona fides.

Acupuncturists

Different states have different designations for acupuncturists and Chinese medicine physicians.

Photo courtesy Fotolia/Max Tactic

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Complementary Medical Credentials: What the Letters Mean  

Compared with conventional medicine, complementary therapies are less regulated. Because of the bureaucracy involved in prescribing drugs, it’s virtually impossible to hang a shingle saying "M.D." if you’re not one. But it's easier to pass yourself off as an acupuncturist or herbalist without extensive training. That’s why it’s important to understand complementary medical credentials. Don’t be intimidated, they’re not difficult to understand — and it’s important to consult practitioners who have solid bona fides.

Massage Therapists
Different states have different licensing programs for massage therapists. Letters after the name include: C.M.T. for certified massage therapist, or R.M.T. for registered massage therapist. Contact your state department of consumer or medical affairs for the designation in your state.

Biofeedback Trainers
Many health professionals practice biofeedback, among them: doctors, M.D., D.O., Ph.D.; registered nurses, R.N.; and physical therapists, P.T. In addition, biofeedback professionals should be certified by the Biofeedback Certification Institute of America (BCIA) and have the following letters after their name: BCIA-C, meaning certified by BCIA. Some practitioners have only BCIA certification and no other degree, but they still are qualified to practice biofeedback therapy.

Naturopaths
Graduates of naturopathic medical schools earn an N.D. degree — naturopathic doctor. Naturopaths are licensed to practice in 11 states (Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, New Hampshire, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington), and five Canadian provinces (Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan). Elsewhere, they practice under other medical credentials, typically: M.D., D.O., acupuncturist, chiropractor or clinical nutritionist.

Herbalists
Most herbalists practice as acupuncturists, Chinese medicine physicians, naturopaths, nurses or doctors. The American Herbalists Guild (AHG) awards the title Professional Herbalist to those who pass its exam. They become Professional Members of the American Herbalists Guild and can use the letters AHG after their names. Some U.S. herbalists train in the United Kingdom at the National Institute of Medical Herbalists. Members of the Institute may use the letters MNIMH after their names.

Homeopaths
Most U.S. homeopaths practice under one or more of the credentials listed above and also practice homeopathy.

Acupuncturists/Chinese Medicine Practitioners
Different states have different designations for acupuncturists and Chinese medicine physicians. Credentials include: Licensed Acupuncturist, L.Ac.; Registered Acupuncturist, R.Ac.; Acupuncturist Ac.; Certified Acupuncturist, C.A.; Acupuncture Assistant under an M.D., Ac.A.; Doctor of Oriental Medicine, D.O.M.; Oriental Medicine Doctor, O.M.D.; Doctor of Acupuncture, D.Ac.; and Acupuncture Practitioner, Ac.P. Check with your state department of consumer or medical affairs.