Chiropractic care is expected to grow over the next several years. As the population in the United States ages and more people are interested in alternative care the specialty is set to experience higher demand, more healthcare coverage and increased understanding of the positive effects of adjustments and manipulations for better body function and less pain. It's due to these facts that many students have an active desire to learn how to become a traditional chiropractic doctor.
What is a Traditional Chiropractic Doctor?
Doctors of Chiropractic care for patients who have a variety of health conditions. Often, chiropractors work with patients that have back pain, neck pain and headaches and can also see patients with injuries, disorders of the musculoskeletal system, muscles, ligaments and joints. All of these conditions affect the nervous system and can cause additional pain and dysfunction throughout the body.
Many Doctors of Chiropractic also help patients with diet, nutrition, exercise, and occupational and lifestyle modification. With this holistic view of medicine and patient care, plus the added factor of avoiding prescription drugs and invasive procedures, chiropractic is gaining acceptance and is expected to see higher than average job growth.
Chiropractic work usually falls under one of two categories:
Manipulation Treatment and Adjustments
Manipulation treatment allows the chiropractor to manipulate the spine and other parts of the musculoskeletal system to help patients with ongoing chronic physical conditions and pain. This provides temporary relief from pain.
Adjustments include adjustments to the neck, spine or pelvis, which can help patients with pain or help them recover from an injury or event that has disrupted their alignment. These misalignments can happen suddenly or develop over time because of the physical habits of the patient.
Educational Requirements for Becoming a Traditional Chiropractic Doctor
The minimum educational requirement for a chiropractor is a doctorate degree. In total, the chiropractic college curriculum includes a minimum of 4,200 hours of classroom, laboratory and clinical experience at a college approved by an accrediting agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Step-by-Step Educational Path to Becoming a Traditional Chiropractic Doctor
Doctor’s of Chiropractic Medicine undergo a similar educational journey as traditional physicians. Starting at the undergraduate level, the student focuses studies on biology, inorganic and organic chemistry, physics, psychology and related lab work in order to lay a foundation of knowledge in the sciences that will inform their further study of how the body operates and how to care for patients.
During undergraduate study it is important to keep in mind the requirements of acceptance into an accredited chiropractic college. These requirements include a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher, a minimum number of science credits and lab credits, and a minimum number of humanities, social, and behavioral science credits. In some states, completion of a bachelor’s degree is not necessary, only a minimum of 90 credit hours of study, while in other states the bachelor’s degree is a requirement of licenses and should be obtained before moving forward with chiropractic education.
Chiropractic school is similar to medical school in that it lasts four years and is split into two parts. The first two years focus on basic sciences including anatomy, physiology, rehabilitation, nutrition and public health. Students then complete part one of the National Boards. Part one tests students in six science areas including: general anatomy, spinal anatomy, physiology, chemistry, pathology, and microbiology.
The second two years a significant portion of time is spent in clinical training, gaining experience doing adjustments and working with patients. At the completion of the second two years of school part two of the National Boards are taken which tests the student in the clinical science areas including general diagnosis, neuromusculoskeletal diagnosis, diagnostic imaging, principles of chiropractic, chiropractic practice and associated clinical sciences.
Part three of the National Boards tests nine clinical areas including case history, physical examination, neuromusculoskeletal examination, diagnostic imaging, clinical laboratory and special studies, diagnosis or clinical impression, chiropractic techniques, supportive interventions, and case management. It is the final test taken during Chiropractic College. However, all 50 states accept or require candidates to pass exams Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV for licensure.
Part four of the examination tests three areas; x-ray interpretation and diagnosis, chiropractic technique and case management. This is the final test for a Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine. In some states this final test is not required. It is recommended that aspiring chiropractors check their state regulations in order to properly prepare for licensure.
Chiropractors can also test in the growing field of Acupuncture through the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. The Acupuncture test includes the history and philosophy of acupuncture in a chiropractic setting, organs, qui and fluid, channels/pathways, acupoints, acupuncture techniques, basic treatment tenets/protocols and safety and hygiene. While acupuncture may seem like a narrow field, over 3 million American adults have used acupuncture and the numbers are growing as acceptance rises.
Every state has different requirements for licensure as a Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine. You can find complete information including administrative codes, statutes, regulations, laws, and application information at the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards website.
Chiropractors recommend obtaining specialized skills in order to develop a client base that is steady and to set the chiropractor apart from their competition. One way to do this is to obtain certificates indicating specialized training has been completed and the chiropractor can offer patients more value for the time they spend receiving treatments.
The American Chiropractic Association offers 10 certifications for chiropractors. These include the following:
Additional advanced certifications are available from the American Chiropractic Association. These certifications required advanced study, a minimum number of years in practice and the passing of a written and a practical exam.
Understanding the Career Path
The majority of chiropractors work in a solo or group chiropractic practice. Chiropractors can be self-employed, starting their own clinic at some point in the career, can be employed by another organization or doctor, or can purchase a well-known name of a chiropractic organization and work under their already established policies and procedures.
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the field of chiropractic will grow by 15% by 2022, which is faster than average for all occupations. This is due to an increased interest in chiropractic medicine as a non-surgical and natural treatment option.
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics the median pay for a chiropractor is $66,160 per year. A new chiropractor may expect to earn closer to $33,000 a year while they are building their client base and gaining experience. Income should rise over time as steady appointments are made and the doctor determines their role in their practice – whether employee paid by the practice, partner in the practice, or solo-owner of a practice. The top 10% of chiropractors make more than $143,670 a year.
It should be noted that while obtaining certifications may set the doctor apart from competitors in the field, they do not necessarily mean that the doctor is able to charge more for their services. The benefit of the advanced certifications is to provide patients with more holistic and nuanced care as well as well as be able to provide services in the doctors area of practice that are otherwise unavailable.
Tips for Success in this Field
The number one tip from experts is to obtain sub-specialization which will attract the consistent client base that chiropractors need to be successful. Doctors of chiropractic medicine should be focused on providing the best patient care possible by being very good at their specialization. This will give them a good name in their community, increase word-of-mouth recommendations, and provide them with the sense of accomplishment that accompanies many people’s motivation to enter the medical field.
In order to develop a specialization, Doctor Ryan Day recommends getting as much experience as possible during schooling. As a student in chiropractic school, a discount is offered to attend lectures and conferences that will supplement the student’s studies and help them find their personal niche in the expanding chiropractic specialty. He poses the question to students, “There are thousands of chiropractors graduating from chiropractic school with the same education. What are you going to do to set yourself apart from the rest of those thousands of brand new doctors?”
According Dr. Day, “Being any kind of doctor is not something you can go into halfway.” Obtaining licensing is a challenge process, but the challenge does not stop at graduation. Working to obtain a steady workflow of clients, continuing education, and bridging the gap between traditional medicine and chiropractic care takes a lot of dedication and work. One should be passionate about their choice to be a chiropractor in order to succeed.