Opening Pandora’s Box: AOM’s First Professional Doctorate (FPD)

A change is coming in the academic world of acupuncture and Oriental medicine. It’s been a slow, quiet process that has taken over 10 years, and thousands of hours of behind-the-scenes work by school administrators. I’m talking about the First Professional Doctorate (FPD) in acupuncture and Oriental medicine. What? Exactly. Over the past few weeks, I’ve asked many colleagues and students if they have heard of the FPD. Some have, but most have not. Of those who have, very few have any idea what it is and how it differs from the current Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM) degree. Given this situation, I thought it would be prudent to dedicate a blog post to the subject.

What is the First Professional Doctorate (FPD)?
According to AAAOM, the FPD is: “A professional doctorate that expands and focuses the standards for the present master’s programs.1” While the shift from the master’s to the FPD standard will ultimately benefit the field, this transition is not without its challenges. What makes me say that? Read on…

By Rudolph Ackermann (1764 – 1834) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A Look At the Numbers
To understand why I would make this claim, one need only look at the hours necessary to obtain a master’s degree in CM/OM/EAM versus the hours necessary to obtain this new FPD. At present, master’s degree programs in this field “must be at least four academic years (a minimum of 146 semester credits or 2625 hours).2” FPD programs, on the other hand, “include a minimum of 162 semester credits of instruction, or its equivalent.3” According to the new standards, the quantitative difference between the previous master’s standards and the new FPD is 16 credits (or 240 hours) of academic instruction. These 240 extra hours consist of: advanced (biomedical) diagnostic studies, patient care systems, collaborative care, “formulating and implementing plans for personal professional development,” and “incorporating scholarship, research and evidence-based medicine/evidence-informed practice into patient care.4” While these standards are intended to prepare graduates for the new landscape of integrative healthcare, it is unfortunate that none of the additional hours are dedicated to fostering a deeper understanding of CM/OM/EAM.

But what about the difference in clinical hours? 870 hours of “integrated acupuncture and herbal clinical training.2” in the master’s program, compared to 1000 hours in the FPD.3 That’s right, folks: 130 clinical hours now separate the master’s graduate and the “doctor” who graduates from an FPD program. That’s not much.

Photo Credit: George Hodan

The DAOM Standard
As a comparison, let’s take a brief look at the minimum standards that current DAOM programs have had to meet. According to ACAOM: “The minimum educational program length for the clinical post-graduate doctorate in Oriental medicine is 1200 hours, 650 hours of which must be in advanced clinical training.5” So, the DAOM graduate has taken a minimum of 3,825 total program hours, compared to 2,625 total hours in the master’s program, and 2,865 total hours in the FPD. That means a DAOM graduate has received a minimum of 1,200 hours more total instruction than the master’s graduate (650 of which are clinical), and 960 hours more total instruction than the FPD graduate (650 of which are clinical).

Nomenclature: The Real Issue
These numbers wouldn’t really be a big deal if there were a clear distinction between the FPD and DAOM titles, but there won’t be. Although one of the schools offering the FPD will confer the title Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (DACM) on their graduates,6 at least two of the accredited FPD programs are conferring the title Doctor of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (DAOM).7,8 That’s right: the same title given to the original DAOMs who, as previously demonstrated, have received far more training! This unfortunate situation will no doubt create confusion in the mind of the public. Furthermore, the reason that many students attended the original DAOM programs was to receive further training and—by extension—more credibility in the eyes of their patients. Conferring the DAOM title onto FPD graduates is not only confusing, but it devalues the degree earned by those who graduated from the original DAOM programs.

In addition, the creation of the new FPD missed another opportunity to rebrand “Oriental Medicine”—a term that is offensive to many members of the Asian community—as “East Asian Medicine.” Why not call the FPD graduates Doctor of Acupuncture and East Asian Medicine (DAEAM), or simply Doctor of East Asian Medicine (DEAM) instead?

UPDATE (12/16/2015): At the November 12, 2015 meeting of the Council of Colleges, the council “adopted a motion that ‘DAOM’ be exclusively reserved as the designation for the post-graduate doctoral degree, and that ACAOM be informed of this motion.9

UPDATE (1/25/2016): ACAOM has recently announced “a two-part project to engage the Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (AOM) field on the pressing issue of Degree Titles and Designations.10

UPDATE (6/6/2016): The Pacific College of Oriental Medicine has discontinued the use of the DAOM title for their transitional doctorate. They have changed the title to Doctor of Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine (DACM).11

UPDATE (8/8/2016): Under pressure from recent graduates of their entry-level doctoral program, the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine issued DAOM degrees to those who demanded them.

UPDATE (9/28/2016): The College of Eastern Medicine at the Southern California University of Health Sciences has recently acknowledged the distinction between the post-graduate and first-professional doctorate standards by changing their FPD degree title from DAOM to DACM.12

UPDATE (4/1/2019): ACAOM has recently enacted a degree structure and naming convention that will standardize titles for the master’s, professional doctorate (previously “first professional doctorate”), and post-professional doctorate (DAOM). According to the document, “Effective no later than 31 December 2022, all ACAOM accredited/pre-accredited degree programs must convert to the new degree structure and naming convention.13

From Wikipedia

Woe to the Recent Master’s Graduates
In my mind, the group that really is going to suffer are recent graduates of master’s level programs. To their credit, the Pacific College of Oriental Medicine (PCOM), is offering a transitional doctorate—an “upgrade” to the FPD—for its master’s graduates. Unfortunately, those who have graduated from other master’s programs that do not offer this option, or those who have graduated from schools that haven’t received accreditation for their FPD programs, may be forced to enroll in the (more expensive) post-graduate DAOM program if they want a doctorate.

UPDATE (1/01/2017): The Pacific College of Oriental Medicine has recently announced that they will be opening their transitional FPD program to graduates of all master’s programs.11

Hopefully, all master’s graduates who would like to upgrade to the FPD will be given an option to do so by their respective institutions. Unfortunately, this is a process that will take time. The other question is: what to do about those who went through the original DAOM programs? One solution would be to create PhD programs, but that would require schools to obtain additional accreditation, since ACAOM does not currently provide accreditation for PhD programs.

I hope I have answered some of your questions and addressed some of your concerns about the new FPD. It goes without saying that the numbers I have provided are based solely on minimum standards. Some master’s programs go well beyond these standards, closing the distance between master’s graduates and FPD graduates even further. Our profession is still growing, and I hope the dialogue regarding the FPD will continue.

1. Guide to the Professional Doctorate (FPD) in AOM, p. 4

Click to access fpd-12-18-09.pdf

2. ACAOM Accreditation Manual, p. 26

Click to access 160227_acaom_accreditation_manual.pdf

3. Accreditation Standards for the First Professional Doctorate, p. 27

Click to access fpd_standards_acaom2013-web.pdf

4. Accreditation Standards for the First Professional Doctorate, p. 6; 45-49

Click to access fpd_standards_acaom2013-web.pdf

5. ACAOM Accreditation Manual, p. 51

Click to access 160227_acaom_accreditation_manual.pdf

6. American College of Traditional Chinese Medicine

7. Pacific College of Oriental Medicine

8. Southern California University of Health Sciences

9. CCAOM News (Winter 2015-2016)

Click to access CCAOM_Newsletter_Winter_2015-2016.pdf

10. ACAOM Hot News

11. Pacific College of Oriental Medicine

12. SCUHS College of Eastern Medicine Announcement

College of Eastern Medicine Announcement

13. ACAOM enacts Degree Structure and Naming Convention

Click to access 190216-ACAOM-Degree-Structure-and-Naming-Convention.pdf

© Dr. Phil Garrison and Dr. Phil’s Chinese Medicine Blog, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Dr. Phil Garrison and Dr. Phil’s Chinese Medicine Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

7 thoughts on “Opening Pandora’s Box: AOM’s First Professional Doctorate (FPD)

  1. Phil,
    Thank you for writing this article. I agree with your assessment of the situation. Having just finished my post-graduate DAOM, I am saddened to see it so devalued so quickly.
    Thanks for your comments,


    • Jocelyn,

      Congratulations on finishing your DAOM! I actually saw the announcement for your defense after the fact, which is a pity, since your topic looked interesting and I would have liked to see you defend. I am hoping that PCOM’s new WASC accreditation may open the door for a potential PhD upgrade in the future…


  2. Thank you Phil for your clear and informative article.
    Indeed, the FPD is an entry-level degree as is the Master’s; and for California schools is only 240 hours more, and coves essentially the same content.
    The DAOM is a post-graduate degree (not entry-level) for LAc’s that focuses on advance clinical practice, a specialization (which in Five Branches’ DAOM includes Family or General Medicine), pedagogy and research.
    The Council of Colleges unequivocally agreed and requested ACAOM to standardize the FPD title. Unfortunately they chose not to. Also unfortunate is that the two colleges who are using the confusing DAOM title didn’t have to go through ACAOM for approval.
    The NIH recognizes research candidates with PhD or DAOM. An FPD, whatever its title, is neither of these.
    Congratulations on your blog.


    • Ron,

      Thanks for adding your voice to the conversation. I appreciate the additional clarity you added on the DAOM vs. the FPD. I did not realize that ACAOM chose not to standardize the FPD title, and I am glad you brought that to the attention of my readers. In my opinion, this decision not to standardize the FPD title was a huge mistake.

      I am aware that the two schools who “are using the confusing DAOM title didn’t have to go through ACAOM for approval.” I am not sure about SCUHS, but I want to clarify that the other school, PCOM (San Diego) has been working on WASC (regional accreditation) for some time. PCOM recently received program-wide WASC accreditation: which includes the FPD, but also their master’s program and DAOM program as well. As far as I know, ACTCM (San Francisco) is the only school who has received ACAOM accreditation for their FPD program.

      all the best,
      Dr. Phil


  3. What is lost in this discussion is the fact that the MAOM takes 146+ hours (my school requies 162). Look at U.S.-granted PhDs – in my field of engineering, a PhD is ~85 hrs. The amount of time and money spent for this Master’s degree is outrageous.

    I find it difficult not to put the blame of the current MAOM/FPD/DAOM debacle squarely on the shoulders of ALL in so- called leadership positions, be they at the national board or the schools. As noted, this has taken 10+ years to unfold…but I don’t think I’d characterize the process as ‘quiet’ because various ideas have been floated, publically, amongst the TCM community, by the board themselves. The fact that TCM students, whose lives these decisions impact, have our naive heads buried in our books, is really no excuse for lack of knowledge about what has been transpiring.

    I agree with Jay Bullock, it is quite possible that a class action could be made. But there is so little ‘community’ among TCM students and what appears to be acquiescence and fear among many students in our schools (comment based solely on my school) to challenge leadership and the status quo, that I doubt anything will come of any lawsuit.


  4. Pingback: Opening Pandora’s Box: AOM’s First Professional Doctorate (FPD) | Chinese Herbs

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