Published: September 16, 2021
By Mina Larson, MS, MBA, CAE, National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM®)
The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM®) was named the 2021 ASAE Gold Circle Award — Member/Volunteer Engagement Campaign winner for their NCCAOM COVID-19 Diplomate Resource and Outreach campaign. Below is a case study outlining the key components of the campaign.
The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (NCCAOM®) was established almost 40 years ago as a non-profit 501(c)6 organization to validate the entry-level competencies needed in the practice of acupuncture and herbal medicine through professional certification.
Over the past 50 years, acupuncture medicine has become increasingly popular in the United States. NCCAOM certification or a passing score on the NCCAOM certification examinations is a documentation of competency and a prerequisite for licensure as an acupuncturist by 46 states plus the District of Columbia. This represents 98% of the states that regulate acupuncture.
As a certification organization, NCCAOM has added resources to advocacy and public education efforts to advance its National Board-Certified Acupuncturists™ in the state and federal arenas. It does this by ensuring some of its fees for exams, certification and recertification are allocated for these important activities to include hiring federal lobbyists and closely collaborating with the national membership organization, the American Society of Acupuncturists (ASA). This partnership with ASA was an invaluable asset for a credentialing organization, as evidenced during the most critical months of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond.
At a Glance: The History of Acupuncture in the United States
The popularity of acupuncture in the United States mainly came as a result of a 1971 trip to China by then Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger, where accompanying journalist James Reston had an emergency operation. Reston was administered acupuncture to relieve pain post-operation. When he returned home, he wrote an article about his experience in the New York Times. However, Kissinger’s mention of the occurrence in a press briefing after the trip, as well as the interest he and President Nixon had in acupuncture, helped inspire the public's curiosity concerning this medicine.
COVID-19 Campaign Beginnings
During the first quarterly meeting of the NCCAOM Board of Commissioners in March of 2020, it became evident that there was a global pandemic and parts of the U.S. started shutting down.
Using the opportunity of this meeting to gather the support of the board and staff, NCCAOM CEO Mina Larson and staff formulated the NCCAOM COVID-19 Communications and Business Continuity Action Plan, outlining everything from temporary emergency waivers for certain policies and procedures, to a communication plan for all NCCAOM constituent groups. This plan became a guiding document for all of us and we constantly updated it to reflect current activities.
Understanding the severe economic and social impact the COVID-19 pandemic had on educational institutions, applicants, Diplomates and other constituent groups, NCCAOM was dedicated to continuously working with our vendors to include our exam administration, and AMS partners to ensure business continuity. We also worked with our accreditor, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), to ensure all of our temporary policy revisions were compliant with NCCA standards. Additionally, we worked with our federal lobbyist to keep ahead of the news from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other government sources so that we could provide updates to our stakeholders as the situation evolved. NCCAOM’s headquarters and operations remained unaffected by the COVID-19 outbreak as we had moved to a 100% remote and paperless environment in 2018.
A constant flow of communication was imperative to stay connected with our constituents. We kept them apprised of the ever-changing landscape as the pandemic evolved through email communications and the creation of a COVID-19 Resources section on our website. Bi-weekly updates were sent to each group (applicants, schools, Diplomates, professional development activity (PDA) providers, state regulators), with specific information tailored to their unique concerns.
COVID-19 Assistance for NCCAOM Applicants and Candidates
Understanding the difficult situation that many graduating students faced in light of interruptions to on-campus and in-person educational activities, the first and utmost important change implemented was issuing a temporary exception for all students graduating before Dec. 31, 2020. The applicant’s graduation transcript is one of the requirements for eligibility to test in a non-pandemic environment. This temporary exception allowed them to start taking the NCCAOM board exams at least 60 days prior to their graduation. By making this option available, we assisted in expediting the graduates’ opportunity to obtain state licenses during this challenging time.
COVID-19 Assistance for NCCAOM Diplomates
For NCCAOM recertification, a grace period of 90 days was issued for all Diplomates due to recertify before the end of 2020. Late fees and extra PDA/continuing education (CE) credits normally required were waived, as well as other incentives which were offered for recertification.
Due to multiple requests from NCCAOM Diplomates regarding COVID-19 safety protocols and business practices, NCCAOM partnered with ASA to provide weekly town hall meetings to address immediate concerns and provide relevant, timely content to practitioners. As the pandemic raged on, these collaborative town hall meetings became increasingly popular. Numerous industry experts were featured as speakers, addressing topics such as: the CARES Act, U.S. Small Business Association (SBA) disaster assistance resources, telehealth and online practice, government relations and advocacy, and more. These meetings were offered free of charge and became a valuable resource for practitioners, students and schools. In addition, PDA credits were awarded for all who attended.
During the months that these meetings occurred, (April through August 2020), the NCCAOM IT team implemented “CE Banking,” a service where PDA points distributed by PDA providers were electronically uploaded and recorded directly to the Diplomates’ NCCAOM recertification transcripts.
COVID-19 Assistance for PDA Providers
The PDA Department worked with NCCAOM providers on a one-to-one basis to convert their face-to-face presentation to a livestreaming webinar. PDA staff also worked with state acupuncture associations to provide free course application approvals for their town hall meetings and assisted with the distribution of upcoming course notices to Diplomates.
To assist providers who were affected greatly by the pandemic, PDA staff extended dates for course renewals and annual discounted review packages. In addition, NCCAOM offered a 20% discount for promoting an approved course in the NCCAOM® PDA Course Spotlight.
The critical nature of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with NCCAOM transitioning to Larson as its CEO in mid-2019 and our partnership with ASA, started as a crisis situation that was then leveraged into many opportunities to help our Diplomates and other stakeholders that generated positive feedback from constituents. Although business and test centers were closed or opened at limited capacity, NCCAOM provided support, direction and guidance that helped stabilize the environment within the profession by continuing to:
- Approve candidates to test
- Work with Pearson VUE so that NCCAOM board exams could be administered
- Process recertification applications
- Allow 35,540 attendees from April to June attend the NCCAOM-ASA town hall meetings in order to receive critical information
Due to the dedication, creativity and hard work of NCCAOM staff and the guidance of its board, this unprecedented global event became an opportunity to help those we serve. It is our honor to have won the ASAE Gold Circle Award for our COVID-19 Diplomate Resource and Outreach Program in the member/volunteer engagement category during the most difficult times in modern history.