The 5 Steps to Becoming a Chiropractor

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Corinne Kalupson62
Events pro, writer, mom, chaser of dreams.
May 20, 2024 at 2:39AM UTC

If you’re considering a career path as a chiropractor, you’ve likely had some positive firsthand experiences of your own with these specialists. Whether the result of a fall or overwork, wearing the wrong shoes or simply because you felt a bit “off,” you may have considered visiting the chiropractor before seeing your general practitioner. That’s common! Chiropractic is a completely client-focused, comprehensive kind of care, with little to no emphasis on pharmaceutical or surgical options. Chiropractic is similar to massage therapy in that it’s a treatment that offers immediate emotional satisfaction: clients will almost always have a procedure with every single visit. The office environment is often soothing and less intense than that of a medical doctor. Those aesthetics aside, do you know what the work is like from the professional's perspective — and what it takes to become a chiropractor?

What qualifications do you need to become a chiropractor?

As you decide whether or not to pursue a career as a chiropractor, consider both your academic and interpersonal leanings. A chiropractor’s days are demanding on many levels. The job is emotional: your regular clients are likely going to be people who are in chronic pain. This means strong observational and diagnostic skills will be valuable, along with empathy. Soothing a client’s fears and validating their feelings is as important as the actual treatment! 

It’s also a very physically strenuous job on two levels: making an adjustment on a client requires you expend physical energy and control while also being sensitive to the client’s own physical reactions to the procedure. Moreover, because chiropractic relies on physical touch, it may take clients some time to relax and warm up to the process. With that in mind, you’ll need to be great at building trust and developing relationships. Finally, it’s intellectually challenging: you’ll need to be able to evaluate what a client is telling you with both their words and their body language. It is critically important that a chiropractor is patient and exhibits good listening skills. 

Does it sound like a lot? It is! However, if you have the drive and desire, these skills can and will be honed during your chiropractic training.

What does a chiropractor do?

Generally speaking, a chiropractor offers evaluation, diagnosis and treatment of a variety of health issues as they pertain to the frame of the human body and the alignment of the spine. The thesis behind chiropractic practice is that proper alignment of the spine can lead to increased blood flow to the affected areas, giving the body a chance to heal itself without the use of medication or surgery. In many cases, a chiropractor will do soft tissue work as well as make recommendations for nutrition, vitamins and gentle, rehabilitative exercise. 

Chiropractic care helps to alleviate a myriad of health problems by means of spinal adjustment and manipulation. The primary focus is on back and neck pain. This could stem from some sort of trauma — that is, from a fall or a muscle strain — or simply from practicing poor posture by hunching over a desk. Even for those without a specific cause for pain, however, regular chiropractic treatment can help increase range of motion and joint flexibility. Adjustments to the neck can alleviate migraine and tension headaches and help with stress and anxiety. After all, pain can lead to further anxiety, which circles back to cause more pain. Because a chiropractor doesn't have an MD, they are not permitted to prescribe medications. However, they will usually refer clients to a medical doctor (as well as partner with other professionals) when necessary. Chiropractic is frequently used in conjunction with other medical treatment, be it orthopedics or physical therapy or paired with alternative or spiritual practice. 

Steps to becoming a chiropractor.

While it’s not a medical degree, achieving a Doctor of Chiropractic (D. C.) certification is incredibly rigorous, requiring at least four years in an accredited, advanced degree program with a heavy emphasis on sciences, procedures and interpersonal skills. Following are the steps you’ll need to take toward becoming a chiropractor:

1. Get an undergraduate degree. 

While only about a dozen U.S. states require a bachelor’s degree prior to pursuing a license to practice chiropractic care, consider that a bachelor of science will give you a base knowledge of sciences as well as prepare you for more intense studies. Choose a major that is centered around science or health and human development: kinesiology, biology or organic chemistry, for example. To really set yourself apart from your peers, select a minor in sociology, psychology or communications. Developing skills in these areas will ensure your future success as a clinician and a business owner.

2. Select an accredited chiropractic college to achieve your Doctor of Chiropractic degree. 

The degree program will take about four years to complete. Building on the foundation you created during your undergraduate career, you’ll take courses in anatomy, chemistry and biology; you’ll take courses to study various tools of diagnosis and an array of treatment techniques. Some students may begin to consider an emphasis early on: sports rehab, athletic and fitness training, a focus on the elderly or on newborns (although this is hotly debated), or holistic health. There’s even a market to perform chiropractic services on animals! 

3. Obtain some hands-on experience (pun intended). 

You’ll need to be able to identify details about specific bones and muscles, ligaments and joints. The best way to do that is to get up close and personal with the human body. During your initial training, of course, you’ll likely be working with cadavers and then will build up to live people. Whatever focus area you choose, you will eventually be required to complete an internship (which, really, is a necessity in any field) in a chiropractic clinic, with actual clients. This will give you the knowledge to be ready for the next step.

4. Schedule your licensing exam. 

The National Board of Chiropractic Examiners provides information and schedules for the four-part examination, as well as any state-sponsored exams that may be necessary. The NBCE license exam is standard in that every state either accepts or requires a passing score, although what constitutes a passing score may vary slightly from state to state. Parts of the exam will be taken during your studies; the others, you’ll take when you’ve completed your internship.

5. Continue your education and expand what you have to offer! 

There are two electives you may take during your licensing exams: acupuncture and physiotherapy. Also, in addition to continuing education for neck and back pain, The American Chiropractic Association offers courses and seminars in nutrition, pediatric care and sports medicine as well as in neurology and treating opioid addiction. Don’t forget to make sure you take advantage of opportunities to enhance your office support and bookkeeping skills. Finally, after being licensed, you may be required to take additional exams, including the Ethics and Boundaries Exam, which will test your knowledge of possible misconduct and sexual harassment

How much does a chiropractor make?

The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts a chiropractor’s median salary at about $74,000/year or $34/hour. Understand that a median salary is just that: the mid-range of earning potential. One of the many benefits of becoming a chiropractor is that there's ample opportunity to become a small business owner. As with many client service-based industries, a chiropractor can make as much or as little as their time and volume of clients will allow. Based on the metropolitan area, a few chiropractors make upwards of $100,000/year or more.

People swear by their chiropractors, often seeing them more frequently than their general practitioners. It’s a challenging, gratifying job in which you have the opportunity to offer both physical and emotional support to people who are hurting. If you're empathetic, hard-working, and fascinated by the workings of the human body, it could be the career path for you.

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