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How to Become a Chiropractor

January 29, 2014

The Chiropractor is often the doctor of choice when it comes to back and muscle pain. According to the American Chiropractic Association, as much as 80% of Americans will experience some form of back problem in their lifetime. One-half of all working Americans will admit to having back pain symptoms annually. It is the most common reason for missing work as well as a visit to the doctor’s office.

Sports injuries, bone loss, and arthritis are often the biggest culprits with pain. As a result, there is an increasing demand for quality pain relief. There is also increasing costs estimated at $50 billion per year. Given these statistics, there is definitely a demand for the profession to develop quality candidates.

The Road to Licensing and Education

Choosing a program of study is the most important component to becoming a Chiropractor. There are over 60,000 active chiropractic licenses in the United States. Chiropractic is also the largest and most regulated of all complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) professions. The school should focus on accreditation and professional continuing education. There are a few governing bodies in the Chiropractic profession:

American Chiropractic Association

The ACA (American Chiropractic Association) is the largest professional organization in the profession. The prestige of this organization is the exhaustive list of continuing education opportunities, conferences, and medical reports. Membership is available for both students and practicing doctors. As a result, this organization is a great choice to network and develop a deeper understanding of the profession.

The Council on Chiropractic Education

become chiropractorThe CCE (Council on Chiropractic Education) is the governing institution that ensures standards are in place for schools of Chiropractic training. The importance of quality education was ensured for protecting the profession and patients. It is important to find a school with this certification. Schools with this licensing have the support of a task force that ensures quality training and updated medical knowledge.

The road to becoming a Chiropractor starts with early education. Prospective students will need to obtain a high school diploma and focus early on requirements for school requirements at the undergraduate level. Requirements vary from school to school, but there is a safe consensus of requirements that all students should focus on at the university level:

Minimum 3.0 GPA or better of the latter semester credits

Although this is the minimum requirement, a higher GPA may be necessary to gain a competitive edge in certain schools. Most schools focus on the last 90 credit hours of coursework. Having a strong edge in coursework will be important.

Basic life science and physical science coursework

Courses often include Chemistry and Biology with lab. Chemistry courses should include organic and inorganic components. Some schools may have a requirement for Biochemistry with lab. Consulting with individuals graduate schools in advance will help to determine the amount of coursework in the life sciences that will be needed. Schools of Chiropractic Studies will usually maintain a strong western medical background

Emphasis on medical coursework

To gain a competitive edge, undergraduate coursework in anatomy and physiology will provide an edge in the admission process. A carry-over from medical coursework in pre-medicine emphasis is often helpful. In addition to the life sciences, courses that cross over into pre-medicine, nursing, and radiography are now important in pre-chiropractic studies.

Specialization and Differentiation

Chiropractic school follows a basic time length similar to medical school. This usually lasts four years but may take additional time if they wish to add any specialization outside Chiropractic to their practice. A specialization may or may not be in the graduate program. Some of these specializations include:

Joint Master’s or Certification in Public Health

With an aging population, many schools are placing emphasis on community health and growing concerns over back and muscle fatigue. Adding an emphasis in public health is becoming more common with all areas of the medical profession. Chiropractic care has dispelled many of the stereotypes of the profession and is reaching more of the population at large. Americans will be working longer into their ‘golden years’, requiring more medical treatment to reduce fatigue and pain.

Adding a master’s or certification will give the potential Chiropractor the additional advantage of community based knowledge. A private practice often deals with a large section of the population and an understanding of systemic problems as well as global trends is beneficial. An additional advanced certification will also be beneficial to the Chiropractor adding staff in the CAM (Complementary and Alternative Medicine) field.

Board certification

Obtaining a history of quality patient care and continuing education should be on the mind of your chiropractic studies. The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners maintains all of the board certifications available for specialization. The main board certification is in four parts with additional testing in Acupuncture and assessments in clinical competency. There are also medical publications available as a source of knowledge for both current and potential Chiropractors.

The emphasis on board certification came as the result of more demand on chiropractic skills as well as legitimizing the profession further. The highly controlled aspects of Chiropractic care are requiring more standards-based education methods and testing to ensure candidates achieve quality instruction.

Veterinary certification

Humans are not the only breed to gain therapeutic benefit from muscle and spine pain. Veterinary certification is quickly becoming popular in Chiropractic Schools. Veterinary clinics that are larger will often house an on-call staff member who is a chiropractor additional clinical requirements as well as seasoned experience may be required.

Joint Master’s and certification in acupuncture treatment

As more patients view medical care with an emphasis on holistic care and a wellness approach, Chiropractic care is quickly becoming a mediator between other legitimate alternative therapy gaining traction in the medical community. Many larger wellness-oriented and naturopathic programs are finding their way into larger university programs. There are state and national boards available for testing.

In addition to board certifications, prospective students will also need to tap into resources to offset the cost of school. The average cost of chiropractic education is between $60,000-100,000. There are a variety of fellowship and scholarship opportunities available to offset the cost. Most schools provide a mix of merit, departmental, and endowed scholarships to potential students. State licensing boards also provide certification to potential students.

Job Requirements and Demands

Chiropractor Examines CT ScanMost Chiropractic schools place an emphasis on whole care and practical clinicals throughout the program. This gives the student a chance to find the specialty that will align with their career goals. Job shadowing early in your undergraduate years in different Chiropractic settings will allow you to gain an understanding of what to focus on in school.

Chiropractors serve to analyze and assess the health of the spine and nervous system. They check the functions of these systems in order to make adjustments to restore natural order and remove any interference. Much of this care is placed under correcting misalignments in the vertebrae of the spine.

The biochemical and physical structure of the spine is differentiated between each patient. In a typical day, the Chiropractor may perform alignments, prescribe exercises to perform at home, and other therapies to reduce pain. Chiropractors often use various objects for therapy as massage and manipulation for specific spots of treatment.

Skills for the Modern Chiropractor

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for Chiropractors is faster than average at 15%.. A great majority are self employed in private practice. As a result, there is a great demand to differentiate the practice by including additional services and specializations. There are several skills that would benefit the potential Chiropractor:

Healthy lifestyle promotion

Chiropractors will need to participate in a large wealth of knowledge to better assess their community and practice. Healthy lifestyle promotion is emphasized from start to finish in most medical programs in the United States and Internationally.

Ability to research and educate

An adept Chiropractor will need to be able to research upcoming medical news and make opinions based on their background. This research starts at the undergraduate level and continues well into the practice of the Chiropractor. There are several journals available:

Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics

This journal is a professional journal with emphasis on the American Chiropractic Association. It is the most commonly researched journal in academia.

Journal of Chiropractic Medicine

This journal is published on a quarterly basis and applies practical evidence and applications for the modern Chiropractor. The emphasis is on the advancement of the profession.

Journal of Chiropractic Humanities

Scholarly debate is important in any profession. The Journal of Chiropractic Humanities. is a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on the humanities aspect of the profession. It features dialogue and opinions on breaking topics. This is an excellent resource for potential students to see what is currently being debated in the field.

American Chiropractor

American Chiropractor is a popular magazine that is available to the public as well as chiropractic professionals. Articles feature stories in practice management, rehabilitation, interviews, and nutrition facts. Many of the emerging stories and articles are highly emergent with guest stores in technology and interviews with pioneering professionals.

Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy

This journal is an international peer-reviewed journal that is dedicated to academic training and the advancement of knowledge in therapeutic techniques. Each issue features guest editors, thesis reviews, and abstracts from current literature.

Alternative Medicine Review

Although there are excellent peer-reviewed journals available to the Chiropractor, there are also good models available for the Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) field. The Alternative Medicine Review is a peer-reviewed journal that focuses on high-impact and clinically relevant articles associated to the field. The magazine is an excellent source for the budding Chiropractor to understand the connection between fields.

Critical thinking skills

The ability to be adaptable to immerse some eastern medicine with western medical models. Chiropractors will need to make decisions on individuals cases with patients based on a variety of assessments. Critical thinking carries over in all areas of the profession. Chiropractors will need to develop these critical skills over time as well. With manipulation and assessment, there is a great deal of understanding on the whole body system. This requires critical skills in comparison and forming analysis in assessments as well as a new breadth of knowledge every so often.

Excellent communication skills

Chiropractors will be communicating with staff, patients, and attending a variety of continuing education conferences. Excellent communication is critical for developing a good rapport with patients and staff. It is also a critical component in this profession to gain insight into pain and discomfort. Back and muscle pain exists on a spectrum of pain that often requires in depth communication to better describe it to a physician. Many patients are referred to a Chiropractor for this very reason. Pain can be a very difficult item to assess with limited communication.


Chiropractors are adapting to rapid changes in the medical community. Job roles are not always prescribed initially as a new graduate. You may be starting your career in a medical hospital or providing home health services. There is a huge amount of variety to the modern chiropractic profession.

A sense of business for a base in maintaining a thriving practice will require the use of excellent business knowledge. Students should take business courses at the undergraduate level to maintain a breadth of knowledge. Some of the more successful practices continue to use the best business models available.

In summary, the potential Chiropractor will need to realize that admission requirements are now just as strict as many medical schools. The requirements allow students to add joint degrees and programs that enhance the profession. This level of autonomy makes a Chiropractor in high demand as time goes on. There is now great support in the community and the emphasis in wellness prevention is making chiropractic care an excellent option for a career. Physicians are referring their patients for additional care to a quality Chiropractor. A quality practice will be able to thrive when the chiropractic student is able to interpret the skills needed to excel.