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Chiropractor How to become, career path, income potential

What is a chiropractor?

Are you interested in alternative medicine and helping people ease their pain and discomfort? Chiropractors are experts in the spine and all the nerve and muscle systems. They work closely with patients to understand current issues and concerns and dive into their medical history to understand the whole picture.

If patients are in pain, chiropractors treat the pain and discomfort using non-invasive methods. Patients might receive a pain management plan that includes exercises, adjustments, and changes in their routines. Chiropractors may also recommend nutritional advice and other preventive care ideas to help them reach their goals.  

With their expertise in the spine, chiropractors do a lot of work with posture and spinal alignment. Minor adjustments can make a big difference in other parts of the body that are often not associated with the spine, but the muscles and nerves are all intertwined within the body. Chiropractors study how to manipulate the spine and joints and realign anything that is off and potentially causing issues.

A chiropractor career path is an excellent option for anyone interested in health and wellness who wants to work outside the traditional hospital/clinic space. The hours are more standard and less demanding, but the role is still about helping people manage their pain and improve their overall health.

Qualifications and eligibility

To become a chiropractor, candidates must complete all of the education requirements. Working in the healthcare field, people must have all the necessary training. The requirements include undergraduate education and a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree. The national board exam is split into four parts that take place while you are going through your DC program. Once the exam is passed, the state license can be applied for.

To be a practicing chiropractor, it’s essential to be covered under malpractice insurance and comply with all regulations around patient care and confidentiality. The role requires empathy, compassion, and excellent communication skills. Working with patients often means explaining medical terminology in a way they can understand and process. 

Work environment

Chiropractors primarily work in smaller clinics and private practices. These offices are set up to manage patient care. A lot of the work is done while standing for the majority of the day and working with hands to make spinal adjustments and provide care.

Some chiropractor roles in hospitals, sports facilities, veterans institutions, and other unique setups might function differently. But the job duties are still similar.

Typical work hours

Most chiropractors keep relatively standard office hours of around 40 hours a week. Depending on the preferences of the chiropractor, there might be evening and weekend appointments, but most patients are seen during the usual Monday through Friday workweek.

Income

The range of salaries for chiropractors depends on experience, geography, specialty, and whether or not the chiropractor works independently or as an associate for another practice. The BLS lists the five locations where chiropractors have the highest annual median wage. Those include:

  • Connecticut – $116,340
  • New Jersey – $113,220
  • Nevada – $112,420
  • Massachusetts – $100,120
  • New York – $97,380

Steps to become a chiropractor

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.

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. 

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 Doctor of Chiropractic (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.

4. Take the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners series of tests

The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (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 will 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 be faced with the final part of the test. Part four is the hands-on portion, where you complete tasks while the examiner evaluates.

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.

6. Gain experience

While some chiropractors 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 you’ll have access to new clients and networking opportunities.

7. Continue education

Once you are a practicing chiropractor, it’s crucial to keep up with your education. 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:

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 chiropractors 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 need to hold an Athletic Trainer Certification, complete a further degree program, and pass exams. These can be added once you’ve started your career if you find an area in which you want to become more involved.

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’ll need to know about business planning, accounting, marketing, and managing people if you hire others. This can increase your earnings, assist more people and practice the specialties you want. 

Types of chiropractors

There are really two different types of chiropractors when it comes to technique and methods. 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 chiropractors also focus on nutrition and other aspects of health and wellness in their practice. 

Another distinction that some people make between chiropractors is the terms “straight” and “mixers.” Most chiropractors 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.

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. 

Tips for becoming a chiropractor

Along with the education and testing requirements to become a chiropractor, some tips will help you prepare for the role and be successful in your aspirations. Try out these ideas to help you become a great chiropractor:

  • Learn how to run and manage your own 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • Get involved with your community. Anyone that works to help people can offer resources to low-income or in-need people within their town or neighborhood. It’s great to give back, and it helps you build some name recognition in the area.
  • 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-than-desirable way. If you plan to enter into these relationships, do your research.
  • 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. It’s impossible to be in every patient’s situation, but having some personal references is good.

Position trends

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 chiropractors on staff to work alongside orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists. Many institutions serving veterans are adding chiropractors, sports teams, corporate offices, and clinics.

Career path

The career path for a chiropractor can take many courses. The future will depend on each individual’s goals and interests. If you start as an associate in a practice or a freelance chiropractor, you can work towards creating your own practice. Once you open your practice, you can choose which services you want to offer. 

Experienced chiropractors can also go on to education and research within the field. Teach at a chiropractor school or work on development and advancements with a university.

1. Talk about your education and experience in the chiropractic field. 

Go into detail about your coursework and experience. If this is your first job, you can dive into the specialty classes you’ve taken along with your test scores and grades during school. If you’ve had any experience working in a clinic while going to school, make sure to mention that.

2. What treatments and procedures do you have training in?

This is your chance to discuss any unique or alternative methods you have studied or any additional certifications. Cover any types of massages, heat therapy, cold compresses, electrical stimulation, and other forms you have experience with. Discuss your training and knowledge of different diagnostic methods as well. 

3. How do you prepare for a patient’s appointment?

Chiropractors should have good notes on patients they have seen before so they can understand what methods have been done and check progress. If you are seeing a new patient, what questions do you ask them to answer before they come in about medical history? 

4. Do you have any experience dealing with an upset patient?

Patients can sometimes be challenging, especially when they are in pain and struggling with health issues. Tell the interviewer about any experiences you have dealing with difficult personalities. Share your methods for remaining calm and helping to de-escalate a situation and help calm someone frustrated or upset.

5. How do you explain chiropractic work to a new patient without previous experience?

Some patients are referred to chiropractors and have zero information about what chiropractics is about. It’s important that they feel comfortable and confident in you before you start adjusting them or working on treatment plans. Share your pitch for new patients to give them basic information, and ensure you have time to answer their questions.

6. What skills do you have that would make you a strong chiropractor?

Use opportunities like this to showcase your skills that would help your practice. Talk about communication skills, empathy, compassion, willingness to continue learning, and the ability to put people at ease. Share your passion for this form of medicine and wanting to help people heal and get healthier.

7. How important is communication when adjusting a patient?

Some people have high levels of fear in medical situations. Communication is key to putting people at ease. Do you cover what to expect ahead of time, so they know what will happen? Do you talk them through each step as things go? Review your communication plans and what you plan to do to keep your patient calm the entire time.

Chiropractor FAQs