A chiropractor focuses on diagnosis, treatment and prevention of musculoskeletal system disorders, especially of the spine. Chiropractic medicine is considered an alternative medicine, as opposed to traditional medical care. Due to the limited scope of chiropractic medicine, becoming certified and licensed to practice in this field is not as time intensive as other medical fields. Becoming a chiropractor requires an education time commitment of an average of eight years plus additional time in practice and to retain ongoing certification.
Education, Training, and Certification
To receive a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) designation in the United States, a student must complete:
• A Bachelor’s degree in a complimentary field prior to entering chiropractic school, typically in biology, psychology, chemistry or anatomy.
• A minimum of 4,200 student to teacher contact hours, equivalent to a four-year college degree that combines classroom, laboratory and clinical training.
• At least 1,000 hours supervised clinical training as part of the degree program.
• A 12-month clinical internship.
• Successful completion of state or national certification board examinations.
Once a chiropractor is fully licensed and able to practice, most states require the practitioner to complete 12 to 50 hours of continuing education on an annual basis in order to retain licensure.
In addition to the standard education requirements, additional specialties in chiropractic medicine are available. Postdoctoral training in chiropractic neurology, sports injuries, nutrition, orthopedics and so forth are available for students wishing to increase knowledge or areas of expertise. After completion of supplemental courses, students may take examinations to obtain additional certifications or licensures.
Benefits as a Chiropractor
There are numerous benefits to becoming a chiropractor. The field is growing in popularity and acceptance as patients look for alternative treatments to musculoskeletal issues. The number of chiropractors practicing continues to grow annually and is expected to increase at a rate as high as or higher than other medical specialties. Many insurance companies now consider chiropractic treatment a viable alternative and cover more of the diagnostic and treatment costs. While chiropractors still must carry malpractice insurance, the limited scope of treatment also limits the exposure to potential claims. Many chiropractors report feeling a sense of satisfaction at being able to help patients relieve pain or discomfort without resorting to medication or invasive surgery.
Challenges as a Chiropractor
However, there are some challenges in the field of chiropractic. Educational requirements are similar to those in other areas of the medical field yet chiropractors do not have the same privileges as medical doctors. In most states, chiropractors are unable to prescribe any medications or order certain diagnostic tests. Instead, if a condition requires medication or advanced diagnoses, a chiropractor must refer a patient to an orthopedist or other medical professional. At the same time, a chiropractor is not licensed to perform major surgery, so again, if a patient requires further medical care, a referral is required. Finally, most chiropractors are unable to gain university or hospital privileges. This limits their ability to perform advanced diagnostic tests on behalf of their patients.
Becoming a chiropractor requires significant commitment of both time and resources. The level of education required ensures those licensed in the chiropractic field are well-prepared to treat patients within their field. As standard medical care advance and becomes more expensive, alternative treatments like spinal adjustments appeal to many patients seeking simple and effective relief. Those considering a career as a chiropractor should be fully aware of the requirements of the profession.