A chiropractor specializes in enhancing the overall health and wellness of a patient by providing medical care through a hands-on, non-surgical approach. Chiropractors also do not use drugs to heal patients, but instead, rely on treating individuals with manual therapies, nutrition, lifestyle counseling, physical medicine, and exercises meant to rehabilitate the body. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree is the required entry-level education for this type of medical field.
Upon fulfilling their educational requirements, all chiropractors must additionally obtain a license in order to practice in the United States. In addition to satisfying specific licensure requirements (which vary from state to state), chiropractors must also take and pass an examination administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE). The exam covers basic- and clinical sciences, clinical case studies, and also includes a multiple-choice test section.
As of 2012, chiropractors earned a median yearly salary of $66,160 where professionals representing the top 10 percent earned more than $142,950. The job outlook for the occupation is also bright; as the U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Outlook Handbook anticipates a 28% rise in chiropractor jobs from 2010-2020, which is faster than the average of all other occupations. An aging Baby Boomer population contributes to a higher demand for the profession, as older patients are more likely to exhibit musculoskeletal and joint problems.
Browse the information below to learn more about the educational path for someone with an interest in pursuing a career in providing chiropractic care – starting with getting an undergraduate education and touching upon the postgraduate training that goes beyond earning a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree:
As a student begins his or her educational path towards specializing in health problems of the musculoskeletal system, he or she must first attend an undergraduate program before gaining the specialized training necessary to become a chiropractor.
Although not a requirement, some students with aspirations to become a medical professional choose to major in premed or a specific area of science when pursuing a bachelor’s degree. Prospective chiropractors are typically expected to complete at least three years (or 90 semester hours) of an undergraduate education before applying to a chiropractic school. Unlike a medical doctor, chiropractors do not take the MCATs before applying to a chiropractic school.
A typical curriculum that a prospective chiropractor follows includes coursework in the liberal arts and laboratory sciences. Specific courses required to move onto the next phase of education are advanced science courses in biology, chemistry, organic chemistry and physics, including all associated labs. Taking anatomy and biochemistry courses is a requirement for some schools, while others encourage students to incorporate classwork related to psychology and nutrition. Coursework in mathematics, English, speech and communication, and technology also help create a well-rounded applicant for chiropractic school.
There are also a few accelerated programs to consider when pursuing an undergraduate education, which offer a combination degree that is completed within seven years, and culminates with a Bachelor of Science in biology, as well as a chiropractic doctoral degree.
Before pursuing a medical degree, it is not uncommon to see some chiropractors earn a master’s degree in a related field, such as sports rehabilitation or nutrition.
Chiropractic doctors must attend an accredited chiropractic school to gain the appropriate education in order to learn the necessary skills for diagnosing, treating, and preventing disorders of the neuro-musculoskeletal system, as well as address how various conditions affect an individual’s general health. Depending on the academic program, the typical student attends four to five years of professional study.
The admission requirements for chiropractor school vary according to individual institutions, but typically include completing undergraduate coursework in the sciences; possessing a minimum GPA of at least 2.5 (much higher in many cases); an entrance interview; and finishing all prerequisite courses with a grade no less than a C.
The education of a chiropractor combines classroom instruction in science and related subjects with supervised clinical experience, where students learn about proper spine function, spinal assessment, spinal adjustment techniques, alternative approaches to medicine, and how to diagnose a patient’s condition. Since the chiropractic field centers on taking a hands-on approach, students spend a great deal of time in clinical training, as they are exposed to various and oftentimes complex adjusting techniques. During a future chiropractor’s studies, a one-year internship that corresponds with clinical courses often takes place while in training.
According to the American Chiropractic Association (ACA), the overall curriculum includes a minimum of 4,200 hours of classroom, laboratory and clinical experience.
Upon completion of an accredited program, graduates receive a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree, a postgraduate professional degree that differs from the medical degree that physicians earn. Chiropractors are not considered medical doctors, yet for insurance purposes, are considered a health care provider in some states. A few differences include that they are not required to complete a residency, and they cannot prescribe medication to patients.
According to the American Medical Association’s Health Care Careers Directory (2012-2013), there were 15 Doctor of Chiropractic programs available across 18 campuses in the United States that have been accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education.
After earning a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, a chiropractor must gain licensure to see patients in the United States. Specific requirements vary by state, and start with submitting proof of completing an accredited chiropractic program.
Graduates must also pass the four levels of the examination given by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (Parts I, II, III IV – practical) and a physical therapy exam in order to become eligible to sit for state board examinations. State board exams are comprised of both a written examination and oral practical exams that touch upon clinical practice and X-ray interpretation. In order to maintain licensure, a chiropractor must fulfill continuing education obligations, which vary according to his or her state of practice.
Some chiropractors choose to pursue a postgraduate education which leads to certification or receiving additional credentials within the field. For example, a residency in a chosen area allows chiropractors to gain further training in a specialization that may include orthopedics, sports injuries, radiology, geriatrics, or pediatrics.
For example, chiropractors may pursue postgraduate studies in neuropathy to learn how to conduct chiropractic procedures for treating patients with back conditions (and a compromised nervous system) who do not wish to have surgery or use drug therapy. Sometimes, chiropractors concentrate on the development of community outreach programs as a way to increase the public’s awareness of alternatives in medicine. Others may incorporate naturopathy, massage and other alternative treatment options to expand their skill set as a chiropractor.
In conclusion, the educational path of an aspiring chiropractor starts with undergraduate studies, followed by completing four to five years of an accredited chiropractic school. Licensure to practice in the U.S. is a requirement, while becoming board certified and gaining certification in a specialty is an optional career choice that increases a chiropractor’s job prospects and earning potential. In order to uphold his or her credentials, a chiropractor is expected to complete continuing education programs to maintain licensure, which varies depending on a doctor’s state of practice, and may include taking classes or attending workshops.