If you’re looking for a career in the healthcare field, then a chiropractor may be an ideal fit.
Chiropractors help people with health problems ranging from pain and discomfort to severe diseases such as cancer. They diagnose and treat patients without surgery or drugs by manually manipulating muscles and bones to improve the function of the nervous system, which controls every other part of your body.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects fast growth in this profession over the next ten years due to an aging population needing more care services even as doctors are retiring. The BLS estimates that there will be a nearly 30% increase in jobs for chiropractors between 2008-2018 (from 9,000 to 12,400), but competition is fierce because many chiropractors are reaching retirement age.
1. Who Is a Chiropractor?
In general, a chiropractor specializes in diagnosing and treating neuromusculoskeletal disorders. The term “chiropractic” means “done by hand.” Chiropractors use manual manipulation to correct any misalignments of the spine and other joints interfering with nerve signals. They also perform other physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, and spinal decompression.
A chiropractic doctor (DC) is a manual medicine physician with an extensive educational background beyond basic sciences. Graduates of accredited chiropractic colleges are awarded the Doctorate of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree, which is required to receive licensure in all 50 states and Canada.
2. Chiropractic History
In 1895, Daniel David (D.D.) Palmer performed the first chiropractic adjustment on a partially deaf janitor who had been injured in an accident years before. D.D.’s healing technique was to make an upper spinal adjustment that improved nerve flow throughout the body. The patient claimed his hearing was restored as a result of the adjustment.
After this initial healing, D.D. faced much opposition from the established medical community. He was put on trial for practicing medicine without a license and convicted by currently used science standards. However, eight years later, an appeals court overturned his conviction and thus began chiropractic as a recognized form of treatment.
Today, chiropractors treat patients from infancy into their golden years and focus on the neuromusculoskeletal system-the nerves, bones, and muscles that make up the body’s hard frame. They also recognize that most people who seek help with these symptoms may have an underlying problem with their nervous system. This is why they often suggest nutritional supplements, homeopathy, naturopathic medicine, and exercises assist in the healing process.
3. Chiropractor Career Path
There are two post-graduate options for chiropractors, a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree program or a Master’s in Science in Clinical Practice (MSCP) degree program that can be completed in 2 years. A D.C. degree is the more familiar degree, but either program will allow you to practice.
One can pursue a chiropractor career in several different ways:
1) Private Practice: A D.C. with at least two years experience working in a clinic, and state licensure can start their own business and compete for patients and insurance reimbursement.
This is a very competitive market with a high overhead, so new doctors must have experience and a solid business plan to succeed.
2) Hospitals: Chiropractors can also work in hospitals as an alternative to invasive surgery for some patients, thus reducing costly medical bills. They work under the supervision of a surgeon, physical therapist, or other physician and offer patients an option that doesn’t include surgery.
Chiropractors are considered “physician extenders” since they work under the supervision of a physician who makes the final diagnosis and treatment decisions. There is good job security in hospitals with the aging population; however, it’s not commonly seen as a chiropractor career path.
3) Colleges and Universities: Chiropractors are an essential part of the education system because they teach, mentor, and work with future chiropractors. College faculty can use their experience to help students understand how to diagnose patients, develop treatment plans and assist them in developing professional relationships with physicians so they can complete a successful transition from school to practice.
4) Military: Chiropractors are essential to the health of our nation’s soldiers and provide care during combat. They also help military personnel recover from injuries and maintain chiropractic care as part of their wellness routines.
5) International Work: People interested in international development can join relief organizations like the U.N., World Health Organization, or Peace Corps and focus on bringing chiropractic services to people in developing nations. Many of these areas lack adequate healthcare coverage, but they have a critical need for holistic therapies like chiropractic care.
6) Government: In the U.S., government jobs are available at all levels, with 70,000 federal employees working for agencies that include the FBI, FDA, and Department of Defense.
4. Chiropractor Career Requirements
Many chiropractors do not have a D.C. degree, but it is required to practice in all 50 states and territories. Becoming a chiropractic doctor requires four years of undergraduate school, four years of chiropractic college, and 1-2 years of internship in a clinic.
Chiropractors are required to attend continuing education classes to maintain their state license so they can stay up-to-date on the latest research and treatment options.
State licensing requirements can vary, but in most cases, students must graduate with a Doctor of Chiropractic degree from an accredited school, pass an exam administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) and complete one year or 3,200 hours of post-graduate clinical training.
Chiropractors must complete a chiropractic residency before receiving their license and begin seeing patients on their own. It’s also common for new doctors to complete an internship at another clinic or hospital; however, not all states require one.
Post-graduate is when recent graduates shadow established chiropractors and learn how to apply their skills. In some cases, internships are paid and provide a salary, while other universities do not allow students to charge patients during this time.
Internships vary in length, so students need to check the requirements before committing to an internship program.
The National Accreditation Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (NACCSC) does not accredit chiropractic colleges, but it lists schools with contact information.
5. Chiropractor Salary
The BLS reports that the mean salary for chiropractors was $64,160 in May 2010. Salaries can vary based on the employment sector and geographic location, and employers pay for employees’ health insurance and retirement benefits in most cases.
Chiropractors who choose to open their practice or start a clinic may need an initial investment of $75,000-$200,000 for equipment and supplies. It’s important to consider that chiropractic practices require relatively low overhead and can be started with less than $10,000.
Chiropractors are paid based on an hourly rate or a flat fee for each patient they see. Prices can vary, so it’s essential to compare rates before deciding which practice is right for them. For example, the national average cost per visit was $50 in 2010, but prices can range from $25-$90 depending on location and employment sector.
The insurance industry is an essential source of revenue for chiropractors, and fees are determined based on a patient’s chiropractic plan. Some patients may have coverage through their employer, but it varies by state and provider. Chiropractors can also accept direct payments from their patients, so they don’t need to rely on third-party payment processors.
6. Chiropractor Job Outlook
The BLS states that the profession is growing at a rate of 24%, which is about average compared to other professions in the United States. However, it’s essential to consider that chiropractic college graduates are entering an already crowded market, and many established doctors are retiring in their 50s.
With that being said, there are still plenty of opportunities because chiropractors need to replace themselves, and many people prefer alternative medicine. The BLS also reports that the profession is expected to grow as baby boomers age and seek treatment for arthritis and other age-related diseases. Chiropractic care is often recommended as a natural approach for back pain, and insurance companies typically cover it.
7. Chiropractor Licensure
Individual states are responsible for certifying chiropractors, but most licensing requirements are based on the NBCE’s nationwide guidelines. Most schools require that students pass an exam after they graduate to become licensed. Still, there are also postdoctoral residency programs for chiropractors who want to specialize in a specific professional area.
The NBCE states that licensure is necessary to practice chiropractic medicine, and it’s not required by every state to practice. States typically require doctors to pass another exam that tests their knowledge about safety regulations, insurance policies, and HIPAA laws. It’s important to note that states also have different laws regarding the scope of chiropractic care. Some states allow students to practice full-scope after graduation. Still, other states require them to complete a certain number of hours under the supervision of an established doctor before they can treat patients independently.
8. What Type of Patients Does a Chiropractor Treat?
Chiropractors typically see patients that suffer from chronic conditions such as neck pain, back pain, headaches, or other joint pains. They can also treat patients who have been in accidents related to the spine and extremities. Chiropractors are trained to find the cause of your health condition, not just treat it.
Chiropractors focus on relieving pain and injury to your back, neck, or joints by applying manual therapies, including manipulation, massage, exercise therapy, and other treatments. Chiropractic is a drug-free treatment that manipulates the spine for patients who have back problems. A chiropractor’s job includes educating their patients about living healthier lifestyles with exercises, good posture practices, and stress management techniques. This helps them improve their quality of life while recovering from an injury or illness. It can also help prevent future health conditions down the road!
9. How Long Does It Take to Become a Chiropractor?
As you can see, there are a lot of factors that go into answering the question of how long it takes to become a chiropractor. To get an accurate answer, all variables would have to be considered and quantified. But since you asked how long it takes to become a chiropractor, we will say this:
If you are starting out and already have your undergraduate degree, and the school you graduate from is one of the best in the country, it could take as little as four years to become a chiropractor. If you are starting and have no college degree, it will probably take you closer to 6 years. If you are graduating from a chiropractic school that is not one of the best in the country or does not teach manual adjusting techniques, it could take you over seven years.
The average time to become a chiropractor these days is about 5-6 years. Again, that could vary greatly depending on several factors. The point we are trying to convey here is that it will probably take you longer than you think, and the quality of your education might be such that it takes you longer than someone else who went to another school with a better reputation.
10. Best Colleges to Study Chiropractic
Many colleges offer chiropractic programs, and the best colleges to study chiropractic vary depending on the students. Still, some of the most highly regarded programs are at Northwestern Health Sciences University, Life Chiropractic College West, and Palmer College of Chiropractic.
According to ranking.com, Northwestern Health Sciences University has the #1 chiropractic program in the country. The school offers an accelerated degree which can be completed in 4 years instead of 5. Students are granted early clinical experience with a team approach to patient care. Clinical training focuses on neuromusculoskeletal conditions, including spinal corrections and diversified adjustments. Clinical internship experiences are available in the second year at the college-equipped clinic and local hospitals and ambulatory care centers. The school was founded in 1915 and has been fully accredited since 1928.
The Life University College of Chiropractic offers a 5-year accelerated degree program that can be completed in 4 years for incoming first-year students. The school was the first to use the “Direct” approach, allowing students to treat patients without a doctor. This method is now used by many chiropractic colleges today. Students will be given early clinical experience in the school’s clinic and other affiliated practices and local hospitals.