What is a chiropractor?
A chiropractor is a healthcare professional specializing in diagnosing and treating neuromuscular disorders, primarily through manual adjustment or manipulation of the spine. Unlike conventional medicine, which often focuses on treating symptoms, they aim to reduce pain and improve functionality by identifying and addressing the root cause of discomfort or imbalance.
These professionals emphasize a holistic approach to patient care, considering both physical and lifestyle factors that might contribute to well-being. Organizations across healthcare and wellness sectors value them for their expertise in non-invasive, drug-free treatment modalities. Their skills contribute significantly to preventative care, often collaborating with other medical professionals to offer patients a well-rounded treatment plan.
Duties and responsibilities
Chiropractors carry out a variety of tasks centered on patient assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. They begin with a thorough patient history and conduct physical examinations to understand the issue. Diagnostic tests such as X-rays or MRIs may also be used. Based on the diagnosis, they develop a personalized treatment plan that often involves spinal adjustments, manual therapies, and health counseling. These professionals also provide nutritional guidance, recommend exercises, and offer lifestyle advice as part of their treatment protocol.
Chiropractors typically work in private clinics but may also be found in hospitals, larger healthcare facilities, and specialized wellness centers. The setting is usually clean, well-lit, and designed to promote a calming environment. They work closely with other healthcare providers, including general physicians, orthopedic doctors, and physiotherapists, to provide comprehensive care. They might also have administrative tasks, especially running their own practice, such as managing staff, keeping patient records, and handling insurance matters.
Typical work hours
The work hours for chiropractors can vary significantly depending on the setting. Those who own their own practices have the flexibility to set their schedules but may also work evenings or weekends to accommodate patients. In healthcare facilities, they are more likely to work regular business hours, although some shift work may be required. Full-time and part-time positions are both common in this field.
How to become a chiropractor
In order to become a chiropractor, you will need a combination of education, training, and experience. In this career guide section, we cover the steps you’ll need to take to achieve your goal:
Step 1: Earn your high school diploma
Finishing high school and earning your diploma or the equivalent is a requirement to enter an undergraduate program. Once you’ve done this step, you can start to apply to secondary schools.
Step 2: Complete undergraduate studies
Many chiropractic colleges require applicants to have their bachelor’s degree. A few only require 90 hours of undergraduate coursework, but it depends on the program, and your best chance is to graduate with a degree. Make sure to take a variety of coursework. Popular degree programs for aspiring chiropractors include exercise science, human biology, or health sciences.
Step 3: Obtain your Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree
Once you’ve applied and been accepted at an accredited chiropractic college, you can begin your coursework to complete your DC degree. The work will include a mix of classroom and clinical learning. Over the course of four years, you’ll learn about anatomy, microbiology, radiology, functional kinesiology, principles, and philosophy of chiropractic care.
You will also complete the following step while attending classes, so it’s important to stay on track with your studies and exam phases.
Step 4: Take the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) series of tests
The NBCE test is split into four parts. There is a schedule that correlates with the completion of particular coursework. The chiropractic college can assist in coordinating your exam dates.
In the second year of school, you’ll take part one of the tests. It covers the six basic areas of science—general anatomy, spinal anatomy, physiology, chemistry, pathology, and microbiology. Each domain will have 50 multiple-choice questions.
Part two will have a similar format and happen during the third year of school. It covers six clinical areas of science—general diagnosis, neuromusculoskeletal diagnosis, diagnostic imaging, principles of chiropractic, chiropractic practice, and associated clinical sciences.
When you are around nine months from graduation, you’ll take part three of the exam. This tests clinical techniques and content, like case management. And finally, after you earn your degree, you’ll face the final part of the test. Part four is the hands-on portion, where you complete tasks while the examiner evaluates.
Step 5: Apply for a license to practice
Once you’ve passed your exams and received your degree, you’ll want to obtain your state license to become a practicing chiropractor. Each state differs a bit in its requirements. Some require background checks, proof of malpractice insurance, or personal references. Check with your state’s licensing board to find exactly what you need. Once you have your license, you must understand what you need to keep it valid and active.
Step 6: Gain experience
While some professionals open their own practice early on, it’s good to have some experience under your belt. Find a job as an associate working for an established clinic and start to build a loyal client list. It would give you a chance to learn from other doctors and chiropractors. There is also a market for independent contractors working in chiropractic offices or different settings, like in-home visits or large corporations. You’ll still be your own boss but have access to new clients and networking opportunities.
Step 7: Continue education
Once you are a practicing chiropractor, keeping up with your education is crucial. Some states require a certain amount of additional coursework each year, but it’s a good idea to stay on top of new technologies and developments even if you aren’t required to. Here are a few courses you can take to help review and expand your knowledge:
- Take the Chiropractic Course from Udemy and learn more about the specialties. The instructor covers some of his experiences as a chiropractor and his background in the role.
- The University of Minnesota offers a course called Integrative Health and Medicine Specialization through Coursera. Learn about integrative therapies and their benefits and risks.
- How to Do Chiropractic Adjustments: The Fundamentals is a course that reviews how to adjust the spine accurately and effectively. It offers a good refresher on the biomechanics of adjusting the cervical, thoracic, and lumbar regions.
- Review the important functions of our anatomy with Anatomy: Musculoskeletal and Integumentary Systems from Coursera. Deep dive into how the integumentary system protects our body and how the musculoskeletal system helps the body move.
- The Chiropractic Approach to Spinal Manipulation course from Udemy helps improve technique and spinal manipulation skills. Learn the how, what, and when to use these techniques.
Step 8: Consider specialization and additional certifications
The American Board of Chiropractic Specialties (ABCS) oversees over twenty specialty boards and councils. You can grow your practice and expertise by adding specialties to your practice. Many incorporate acupuncture, a traditional Chinese medicine, as an additional treatment option. Nutrition is another specialty that can be beneficial to become certified in.
Each specialty comes with its own requirements. For example, nutrition chiropractors require 300 hours of online coursework and passing an additional exam. Sports chiropractors must hold an Athletic Trainer Certification, complete a further degree program, and pass exams. Once you’ve started your career, these can be added if you find an area in which you want to become more involved.
Step 9: Start your own practice
Chiropractors can start their own practice at any point in their career. Starting a business is not simple, so you must know about business planning, accounting, marketing, and managing people if you hire others. This can increase your earnings, assist more people, and practice your desired specialties.
How much do chiropractors make?
Chiropractors’ compensation varies based on several factors. Geography plays a crucial role, as salaries can differ significantly between states and even cities. Experience is another important consideration; those who have been in the field longer typically earn more than entry-level professionals. Additionally, the setting in which they practice—a hospital, private clinic, or a specialized care center—can influence earning potential. Some may also earn bonuses or commissions, mainly if they run their own practice. Educational background and additional certifications in specialized techniques can further differentiate salaries.
Highest paying states
- Connecticut – $116,340
- New Jersey – $113,220
- Nevada – $112,420
- Massachusetts – $100,120
- New York – $97,380
Types of chiropractors
There are really two different types of chiropractors when it comes to technique and methods. Another distinction that some people make between these professionals is the terms “straight” and “mixers.” Most fall into the “mixers” category today. It means they are open to different views and conventional medical techniques. They use exercise, massage, and heat and ice therapies. They see the importance of working side by side with medical doctors. “Straight” chiropractors are definitely in the minority today. This type of chiropractic care focuses on correcting vertebral subluxations completely. It’s the more traditional method but less common today.
A symptom-relief chiropractor focuses primarily on relieving symptoms in patients. This can involve easing pain and decompressing joints. Patients visit them for a short treatment time until a specific injury or concern is fixed.
Wellness chiropractors focus on finding and correcting any misaligned vertebra in the spine. This helps improve the body’s overall wellness and provides lasting relief and posture improvements. These professionals also focus on nutrition and other aspects of health and wellness in their practice.
Other specialties within the practice include sports, pediatrics, radiology, and workplace specialties. There are also animal chiropractors that work in the veterinary field. Lastly, there are positions in academia that include instructors and researchers.
Top skills for chiropractors
This section outlines the primary skills and traits needed to succeed as a chiropractor. The following descriptions provide insights into the abilities anyone aspiring to this role should focus on developing.
In-depth knowledge of anatomy
Understanding the human body’s musculoskeletal system is the basis of their practice. The spine, muscles, and nerves are interconnected, and a thorough knowledge of anatomy allows them to correctly identify issues and administer effective treatments. Knowing body mechanics’ intricacies also helps devise treatment plans that alleviate pain and restore mobility.
Chiropractors often work together with other healthcare professionals but are usually the first point of contact for musculoskeletal issues. Therefore, precise diagnostic skills are vital. Accurately identifying the root cause of a patient’s discomfort or pain allows for targeted treatments, often resulting in quicker healing and a more satisfied patient.
Chiropractic care primarily involves hands-on manipulation of the spine and other body parts. Fine motor skills and good hand-eye coordination are essential for applying the right amount of pressure and movement. This skill is crucial for effective treatment, as the wrong technique could worsen a patient’s condition.
Building rapport and trust with patients is fundamental in any healthcare role, and chiropractic care is no exception. Effective communication skills allow these professionals to explain complex conditions in a way that is easy for patients to understand. This understanding fosters trust and increases the likelihood of a successful treatment plan.
Many operate their own practices, making business skills a valuable asset. Understanding marketing, customer service, and basic financial management can significantly affect the success of a private practice. Those who can balance medical expertise with smart business decisions generally have a more sustainable and successful career.
Chiropractor career path options
For those interested in a career as a chiropractor, the journey often starts with obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a science-related field, followed by a DC degree from an accredited chiropractic college. Licensing is mandatory and typically requires passing the NBCE examination. Post-licensing, there are several avenues you can explore.
Most start in an associate role, often within an established chiropractic clinic or as part of a multidisciplinary healthcare team. Here, you’ll develop your hands-on skills and client relationships.
Over time, you may choose to specialize in areas such as sports medicine, pediatrics, or orthopedics. Specialization often involves additional certifications and, sometimes, fellowships.
As you gain experience and build a client base, opening your own clinic becomes a viable option. This step offers autonomy but also involves operational responsibilities like marketing, staffing, and financial management.
After years of successful practice, you might transition into academia, training the next generation of chiropractors. Alternatively, consulting roles for healthcare facilities or companies manufacturing chiropractic equipment can be fulfilling.
With extensive experience and a well-established reputation, you may be invited to lead associations, write research papers, or even influence policy. At this point, you’ve likely achieved financial stability and professional respect, becoming an authority in the field.
Similar job titles
Chiropractor position trends and outlook
Due to the aging population and the need for noninvasive, drug-free treatments for musculoskeletal conditions, the chiropractic industry is expected to experience growth in demand. Increasingly, chiropractors are regarded as integral members of healthcare teams, working together with other healthcare professionals to provide holistic care to patients. It is expected that this trend will continue, with more and more medical facilities integrating chiropractic services into their care plans.
There is also an increase in the use of telehealth in chiropractic services to allow patients to receive care remotely. It appears that this trend will continue, making chiropractic offices more accessible to patients and allowing them to provide them with new services.
Employment projections for chiropractors
Chiropractor positions are predicted to grow by 10% by 2031, faster than other jobs and occupations. More and more patients are seeking alternative medicine and less invasive treatments for their ailments.
It’s also becoming more common for hospitals to have these professionals on staff to work alongside orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists. Many institutions serving veterans are adding chiropractors, sports teams, corporate offices, and clinics.
Chiropractor career tips
Soft skills and traits for chiropractors
Learn how to run and manage your business to start your own practice. Take business planning and accounting courses to help you expand your knowledge on the critical topics for operating a business. Check out software programs, like ChiroTouch, to help manage the business. Also, make sure you perfect your bedside manner when working with patients.
Commonly required skills and qualifications
Take good care of your hands. Chiropractors rely on their hands to do the work, so you must stretch and work out the muscles in your hand. Experience some treatments yourself. Make appointments to try out some of the services you are considering offering in your practice, whether it’s massage, heat therapy, or new tools, so you know what your patients can expect. Being in every patient’s situation is impossible, but having some personal references is good.
Study X-rays and practice interpreting these tests and other diagnostic tests. The more experience you have in reading these, the better you’ll be able to spot things with your own patients in the future.
Develop a professional network
Get involved with your community. Anyone that works to help people can offer resources to low-income or in-need people within their own town or neighborhood. Giving back is great, enabling you to build some name recognition in the area. Join at least one professional network to meet other chiropractors and share knowledge.
- Foundation for Chiropractic Progress
- Chiropractic Research Alliance
- International Chiropractors Association
- American Chiropractic Association
Be aware of referral relationships with personal injury lawyers. There can be some healthy relationships, but some lawyers do not have excellent reputations and tend to work the system in a less desirable way. If you plan to enter into these relationships, do your research.
Where the chiropractor jobs are
- Sentara Health
- The Joint Chiropractic
- Moffitt Cancer Center
- U.S. HealthWorks Medical Group
Top job sites
Is it hard to become a chiropractor?
Becoming a chiropractor requires completing the education requirements, which can be challenging. It requires undergraduate studies, completion of chiropractic college, and passing the national exam.
How much does a chiropractor work?
Chiropractors work an average work week of 40 hours. Those who have their own practice or work as contractors can set their own calendar and hours, so they may choose to offer appointments on evenings and weekends.
What skills do you need to be a chiropractor?
Chiropractors work closely with their patients, so they must be excellent communicators with empathy and kindness. Staying organized and detailed with notes and records is important as well. They should be open to learning new techniques and working with others to provide well-rounded care.
Are there any disadvantages to being a chiropractor?
Becoming a chiropractor takes a lot of schooling and studying, so it’s not an easy job to acquire. It’s a fantastic career path, but there are some disadvantages. The role can be challenging for patients, the pressure of high-risk procedures, and the pressures of building and managing your own practice.
How long do you have to study to become a chiropractor?
Most people take around eight years to become a chiropractor. Some education paths can be done quicker with year-round coursework, but typically, it is an undergraduate and postgraduate degree.
What tools do chiropractors use?
Chiropractors utilize a variety of tools for their practice. Tables are one of the most common tools in their office, along with activator adjustment tools. X-rays, computers, ultrasounds, and heat and cold lasers are also used for different treatment plans.
How many patients does a chiropractor see in one day?
Each practice is set up differently for its daily capacity. Some see as many as 30-40 patients each day. The appointment length depends on whether the patient has a treatment plan already and how much time is required for each appointment. The typical day will look different for each chiropractor, but many can set their own schedule and the maximum number of patients.
Do chiropractors make good salaries?
The salary amounts for chiropractors are significant compared to many other occupations. They typically don’t make as much as surgeons and other doctors, but the hours and schedule are less demanding. Those who run their own practice can increase their salaries by bringing on associates and growing their businesses.
What does a chiropractor study for their undergraduate degree?
Students wishing to attend chiropractic school should take a healthy mix of science, health, math, and social sciences courses. Earning a major in health, biology, anatomy, or any field good for pre-medicine is acceptable. It’s possible to apply with majors in other fields as long as there has been coursework in various areas.
What are the requirements to become a licensed chiropractor?
Each state has its other licensing requirements for a chiropractic license. It’s essential to have passed your board exam and see what the state you will be working in requires. Some places require background checks, proof of malpractice insurance, or personal references.
Do chiropractors believe in traditional medicine?
Chiropractors offer a form of alternative medicine that focuses on the spine, but most individuals today don’t believe that their treatments are a substitute for traditional medicine. They often partner with other medical professionals to help patients find treatment plans that work for them.