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Natural Awakenings Greater Boston - Rhode Island

New England School of Acupuncture: Meeting a Rising Demand for an Ancient Healing Art

May 31, 2012 10:43PM ● By Kim Childs


The New England School of Acupuncture (NESA), in Newton, opened its doors in 1975 to become the first acupuncture school in the nation. Today NESA awards master’s degrees in acupuncture and Oriental medicine, conducts research with local and national institutions and runs teaching clinics that serve a wide variety of patients throughout greater Boston. Natural Awakenings sat down with Amy Hull, director of program development at NESA, to learn more about who’s enrolling at the school these days and who’s seeking treatments from NESA’s acupuncturists-in-training.

What kinds of clients are using your teaching clinics?

Our patient population is quite varied. In addition to our teaching clinic at the school, we have seven satellite clinics in hospitals and community-based settings throughout the Boston area. We cast our treatment net very wide now, serving a socioeconomically diverse population from Roxbury to the North Shore. Our interns provide more than 20,000 treatments a year, and some of them are free of charge to indigent patients.

Things have really shifted. We used to approach hospitals and community health centers, asking them to help us provide educational experiences for our students and community care through these clinics. Now they approach us. We have a commitment to making acupuncture and Oriental medicine accessible to the public, and we’re really doing that.

To what do you attribute this shift?

I think it’s because people can earn a master’s degree in acupuncture, plus the fact that acupuncturists are licensed by the Massachusetts Board of Registration in Medicine. Those two things, combined with all the research that’s been done on the efficacy of acupuncture, has made western medicine much more receptive to it. Many hospitals in the Boston area have at least one acupuncturist on staff now. Patient demand has grown, too. I think that people are tired of reaching for a pill to treat a symptom that only returns. People are more interested in taking care of their health in more natural ways that work with the body and help to resolve problems, rather than mask them with medication.

How has your student population changed over the years?

In the mid-1990s we were awarded master’s degree granting authority from the state, which allowed our students to get financial aid. We then added a day program, and our enrollment doubled overnight. It’s remained steady since then, and many of our students are career-changers. We have attorneys, physicians, nurses, physical therapists, computer programmers and massage therapists coming to study acupuncture, which has always been the case, but the diversity of backgrounds has grown enormously. Even more interesting is that we’ve seen quite a jump in the last several years in the number of students coming right out of college. These are people who have grown up with acupuncture. They’ve seen and experienced the benefits and they’re making it a career choice.

What role does your research department play in bringing people to acupuncture?

NESA is known for its leadership in research. We collaborate with medical and research institutes in Boston, such as Harvard and Tufts Universities and Massachusetts General Hospital, on a number of studies and we’ve been awarded more than $4 million in research grants from the National Institutes of Health. We’re currently conducting research on the effects of acupuncture on Gulf War Illness through a $1.2-million grant from the Department of Defense. We’re still recruiting Gulf War veterans to participate in the study, and veterans who served in that war can call 617-558-1788, extension 269, or see our research page at to learn more about it.

Additionally, we’ve been involved in researching the effectiveness of acupuncture on such things as pelvic pain from endometriosis, irritable bowel syndrome, hypertension and neutropenia caused by chemotherapy. Research has also shown acupuncture to be effective for musculoskeletal conditions, osteoarthritis and dental surgery pain. In Massachusetts, research led to the creation of workman’s compensation coverage for acupuncture among people who develop carpal tunnel syndrome as a result of a work-related injury. Personal injury protection in the state also covers acupuncture now if you are injured in a car accident.

The New England School of Acupuncture is located at 150 California St., Newton. For more information, call 617-558-1788 or visit