How to Become a Chiropractor
Becoming a licensed chiropractor means joining one of the most highly respected and sought-after groups of health-care professionals in America.
Learning how to become a chiropractor is the first step to joining the largest natural health profession in the world. Chiropractors live rewarding lives; they help others become free of pain and they benefit from one of the best lifestyles of any healthcare occupation. The average annual salary for a chiropractor exceeds $145,000 (source) and job growth is expected to increase by 12 percent (source) by 2026.
This guide is designed to teach you everything you need to know to become a chiropractor—the many benefits of a career in healthcare; the skills, knowledge and degree you can receive from a chiropractic education; the favorable work-life balance afforded to chiropractors; and how it feels to be positioned at the forefront of innovation. You'll also be introduced to two very important voices throughout this guide:
Sheridan French is a current student at New York Chiropractic College. He is pursuing a chiropractic career because, like many students, he wants to help people live free of pain.
Dr. Sarah Tirimacco
Dr. Sarah Tirimacco is a licensed chiropractor and NYCC graduate who operates her own chiropractic clinic. She focuses on athletic, maternity, and postpartum chiropractic services.
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Why Become a Chiropractor
Generally, careers in the healthcare field are associated with unapologetically long hours, high-pressure situations, and an overall demanding work-life balance. But the chiropractic field can be the exception. Chiropractors often work 40-hour work weeks in climate-controlled offices that are quiet and welcoming. Numerous nationwide studies performed over the last 30 years reveal that chiropractors have very high patient satisfaction rates, and patients have shown to seek chiropractic care over other healthcare professionals. Chiropractic is also on the top 25 list of "Professions with the Best Job Security," according to U.S. News and World Report (source).
Benefits of Becoming a Chiropractor
Whether a chiropractor opens their own practice or joins a clinic, there are plenty of job opportunities. Job growth in the chiropractic industry is expected to grow by 12 percent by 2026--nearly double the national average (7.4 percent) according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. (source)
Chiropractors also benefit from a life of learning long after they become licensed practitioners. Because of the variety of skills that chiropractors must master, as well as the necessity to understand many areas of healthcare in general, chiropractors continually work with and learn from other healthcare professionals--such as physicians and physical therapists--through complementary care and referrals.
Flexible Work Environment
The work environment of a chiropractor is highly desirable. Chiropractors often own their own practices or work in smaller and quieter clinics compared to the professional spaces of other medical professionals. Chiropractors can also live and work anywhere since they don't need to be near major hospitals, and can choose from a variety of specializations to focus on.
There is an increasing need for chiropractic care in all communities--in the country, the city, or in places in-between. Being a chiropractor provides professional freedom and flexibility that many only dream about. Maybe you prefer to practice at a location that allows you to play golf every morning, or hit the slopes for some night skiing every evening. Perhaps you love the water and want to follow your passion for surfing, sailing, or scuba diving. Even if it's just having the flexibility to schedule time with your family, a chiropractic career affords professional freedoms that are the envy of the healthcare field.
Demand for chiropractic care is on the rise for a variety of reasons:
1. The Growth of Baby Boomers
The growth of the baby boomer generation (b. 1946 - 1964) presents more opportunities for chiropractors since older adults are more likely than younger people to have neuromusculoskeletal and joint problems. Members of the aging population are increasingly seeking treatment for these conditions as they lead longer, more active lives.
2. Increased Coverage via Insurance Plans
Demand for chiropractic treatment is related to the ability of patients to pay, either directly or through health insurance. Many insurance plans now reimburse patients for basic chiropractic care for back and neck pain. Kaiser Permanente and the Department of Veterans Affairs have provided such care for many years, while big corporations like Google and Cisco offer chiropractic services as an on-site employee benefit. Chiropractic care is covered by Medicare and some Medicaid plans, as well as by large insurance companies like Blue Cross Blue Shield, depending on the plan.
3. Rise of Opioid Crisis
Opioid prescriptions for chronic pain has led to a national crisis. Between 1999 and 2017, almost 400,000 people died from an overdose involving any opioid, including prescription and illicit opioids. (source) On average, 130 Americans die everyday from an opioid overdose. (source) The American College of Physicians recommends that patients with chronic low back pain initially select non-drug therapy, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends "clinicians should ensure that patients are aware of potential benefits, harms, and alternatives to opioids before starting or continuing opioid therapy." (source) A recent study found that chiropractic care for back pain helped to lower opioid use by 55 percent.(source)
4. Wide-spread Lower Back Pain
Probably the most well-known reason for the steady demand for chiropractic care: 80 percent of all Americans experience some sort of lower back pain in their lives. (source) Medications and surgeries are options for this type of pain, but those can be dangerous, expensive, and ineffective. Often, an adjustment from a chiropractor can significantly reduce back and neck pain via a non-invasive technique. Chiropractic treatment is also less expensive than other methods of pain management.
Important Qualities of a Great Chiropractor
Chiropractors must determine the best course of action when treating a patient. They must also decide when to refer patients to other healthcare professionals.
Attention to Detail
Chiropractors must be observant and pay attention to details so that they can make proper diagnoses and avoid mistakes that could harm patients.
Because they use their hands to perform manual adjustments to the spine and other joints, chiropractors should have good coordination to perform therapy effectively.
Chiropractors often care for people who are in pain. They must be understanding and sympathetic to their patients' problems and needs.
Chiropractors must be personable in order to keep clients coming to their practice. Also, because chiropractors frequently touch patients in performing therapy, they should be able to put their patients at ease.
Self-employed chiropractors may need to schedule appointments, manage employees, bill insurance companies, and maintain patients' files. Good record keeping and other organizational skills are critical in running a successful business.
Communication is a cornerstone of the chiropractic skill set. Doctors talk extensively with patients to understand their health issues and aspects of their daily lives that contribute to pain and medical problems. Chiropractors are also teachers dedicated to helping patients learn to take better care of themselves. As a chiropractor, you'll spend most of your time communicating with your patients to ensure the right care is given, and that treatment is clearly understood.
At NYCC, I'm currently learning the skills to diagnose patients of all ages and with different health profiles so I'm prepared as soon as I graduate.Sheridan
I've treated patients from many different backgrounds. With demand on the rise, there's a strong need for more chiropractors with the expertise to treat the variety of patients that now require chiropractic care.Dr. Tirimacco
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What To Expect from Chiropractic College
Chiropractic education prepares you for a career through real-life clinical and practical research, and hands-on practice. You'll learn from expert mentor-practitioners in an array of diverse healthcare environments, and have the opportunity to apply your skill set in an internship.
Examples of Chiropractic Courses
- Chiropractic Philosophy & History
- Spinal Radiology
- Principles of Physiopathology
- Chiropractic and Philosophy
- Emergency Procedures
- Chiropractic Theories
- Musculoskeletal Physiopathology
- Bone and Joint Imaging
- Soft-Tissue Technique
Exploring Chiropractic Specialties
The wide range of possibilities in chiropractic practice allows for specialization. While most chiropractors choose to offer care to patients of all ages in a family practice, there are also specialty practices:
- Animal chiropractic
- Chiropractic research
- Additional services like nutrition, acupuncture, and directed exercise.
From day one of chiropractic college, my professors have treated me like I am one of their peers. I'm not simply 'a college student'--my job is to become a chiropractor, and the NYCC faculty ensures I feel like one of them.Sheridan
As soon as I graduated from NYCC, I quickly realized how well-prepared I was for the real world of chiropractic care.Dr. Tirimacco
The Path to Chiropractic College
Choosing the chiropractic college that's right for you is a big decision. We've developed a 5-step guide to help you plan your path to your chiropractic college of choice.
Candidates for chiropractic college generally must have completed the equivalent of three academic years of undergraduate study (90 semester hours) at an institution accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or an equivalent foreign agency. As well, future chiropractors must have a grade point average of not less than a 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
Chiropractors must earn the Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree from an accredited chiropractic college. You'll be studying alongside peers from diverse undergraduate backgrounds such as liberal arts and social sciences to specialties such as exercise science and physiology, biology, kinesiology, athletic training, nursing, and physical therapy. And you'll learn from a community of experienced and aspiring doctors who model day-by-day what it takes to be well and stay well.
Before you obtain your chiropractic license, you must first pass the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NCBE) exam. All states require that chiropractors hold a Doctor of Chiropractic degree and have passed their certification exam before they can begin their careers. The NBCE is a 4-part examination and each section can be taken at various times while you earn your degree.
Choosing a specialty is one of the most satisfying steps to becoming a chiropractor. This step puts you one step closer to achieving your goal and kickstarting your career. You can specialize in areas like sports injuries, geriatrics, pediatrics, or even on treating nervous system and back pain conditions through neurological and chiropractic procedures, without the use of surgery or drugs.
By following your passion and pursuing excellence, you will achieve your goal of becoming a chiropractor and launch a rewarding and illustrious career in the health-care profession.
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Being a Chiropractor: A Life's Work
Chiropractors treat more than 35 million people in the U.S. every year. (source) They typically perform a variety of tasks depending on the patient, situation, and level of care that is needed. Common tasks chiropractors perform:
- Assess a patient's medical condition
- Perform physical examinations
- Analyze patient's posture, spine, and reflexes
- Conduct tests and take x-rays
- Provide neuromusculoskeletal therapy, involving adjustment of the spinal column and other joints
- Advise patients on health and lifestyle issues, such as exercise, nutrition, and sleep habits
- Refer patients to other healthcare professionals
Chiropractors enjoy one of the best work-life balances of any healthcare profession, and also devote their time to a life of helping others--one of the many benefits.
Chiropractors make an average annual salary of more than $145,000, which often includes bonuses, commissions, and profit-sharing. (source) The average salary reaches as high as $176, 219 in New York State, according to salary.com. Money isn't everything but it is a nice advantage, and there are also plenty of opportunities to increase your earnings by conducting research or working with athletic teams, fitness centers, hospitals or students.
Work Space Flexibility
Working from home has risen in popularity in the last decade. Technology has made it possible for anyone with a computer, a phone, and a few hundred square feet of space to work out of a home office. While the chiropractic field doesn't rely on the same technology as other industries, it's still very common for chiropractors to work from home.
Chiropractors that do work from home can save time and money on commuting to an office. With the right at-home equipment, chiropractors can see an increase in their annual revenue by working from home and claiming a portion of their home as a tax deduction.
Become a Business Owner (Self-Employed)
One of the most appealing aspects of becoming a chiropractor is the potential of owning your business as a self-employed individual. 30 percent of chiropractors are self-employed. (source) Self-employed chiropractors have control over where they want to work and live in any of the 50 U.S. states and many other countries around the world. Self-employed chiropractors aren't restricted to living in the cities where there are more job openings than others.
While being self-employed and operating your own business can be nerve-wracking for some, it is immensely popular for the lure of being your own boss, setting your own hours of service, and controlling every aspect of your practice.
Working in a Clinic
Most chiropractors, at some point in their careers, will work at a clinic. In fact, working at a clinic is likely the first job out of chiropractic college. A clinic is where chiropractors get hands-on practice under the guidance of experienced industry professionals and then apply everything they have learned to real scenarios with paying patients
The relationships I’m making at NYCC are setting me up for a successful career—whether it’s at my own clinic, home office, or a practice.Sheridan
I’ve learned that the healthcare field has a strong business component to it. It's extremely important to be personable and have market savviness no matter which avenue you take after graduation. I personally love the business and marketing side of chiropractic care. 75% of my referrals come through my website.Dr. Tirimacco
Being a Chiropractor: A Day in the Life
A chiropractor usually sees anywhere from 15 to 30 patients in a day. Most patients will receive some type of treatment, but it's not only caring for the necks and backs that most people associate with chiropractic care. Here's a glimpse into a typical day in the life of a chiropractor.
You'll spend the early part of the morning preparing for the day by looking over your appointments. Most patients at chiropractic clinics are by appointment only, with very few walk-ins. You'll review the patients that are scheduled for that day, find out if there is anything new to learn about their treatment, and prepare to provide them with care. Many clinics today have adopted online or automated scheduling software, so depending on your method, you may be reviewing your appointments by yourself or with an assistant. If you work from home, you'll likely do this on your own without an assistant. Once up to speed, you may freshen up the patient area before your first appointment arrives.
Morning Rush Hour
Chiropractors treat patients of all ages, but the bulk of patients are of working age. This means many want those coveted early morning and evening appointments to fit around a typical nine-to-five workday. These are busy hours for chiropractors, who try to help as many patients as possible in these time slots. And of course, during this and all working periods, you can expect a great deal of variety: you won't just deal with bones and joints but also may treat patients who suffer from asthma, headaches, hormone imbalances, or ADHD.
While you'll likely spend the bulk of your afternoon meeting with more patients, if most of your appointments are scheduled for the morning and late afternoon (after office hours) you may use some of your early afternoon looking over new patient assessment files. Before chiropractors devise a plan of action for a new patient, they identify the problem. This requires a thorough physical examination where the chiropractor assesses the patient's movement patterns and orders or performs X-rays if necessary.
End of Day
As anyone who works in healthcare will tell you, one reason why they've chosen healthcare as a career path is because they enjoy helping people. Chiropractic is among those careers that can make a difference, and by the end of your day, you'll have experienced the ultimate satisfaction of helping people. Chiropractors help patients achieve better health and an improved quality of life. As a result, chiropractors can end each day with a level of accomplishment that most careers can't provide.
My advice to a future chiropractic student: shadow other chiropractors. That's how you see your future day-to-day. It's intensive, it's busy, but it's worth it.Sheridan
I see roughly 50 to 80 patients per week, maintain a balanced lifestyle, and still have time for my family and passion projects on the side.Dr. Tirimacco
A Chiropractic Career Timeline
Chiropractors generally begin their careers working for someone else. This provides them with mentorship and helps them begin to build a client base.
After 5 years, chiropractors often decide whether they want to buy into the practice where they work and become a partner, or open their own practice as a sole proprietor.
By this time, a chiropractor has built his or her practice and established the business. After a decade of practice, many chiropractors teach part-time and have become active in the politics of the profession. They may be involved with groups that want to educate the public about the field of chiropractic, such as their school alumni board or other regional or national organizations.
With up to 20 years of experience and knowledge of the industry, chiropractors often publish studies and research to improve and innovate the healthcare field. They are among the leaders of the profession, either regionally or nationally, and can carry great influence.
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Being a Chiropractor: At the Forefront of Innovation
The chiropractic industry uses cutting-edge technology and continually seeks innovative ways to educate its workforce and improve the lives of its patients. Becoming a chiropractor means you will also continue to evolve your skillset as the chiropractic industry grows, setting you up for even more success.
It's not about perfection, it's about the journey towards being the best that you can be.Sheridan
The scientific foundation gives us the tools that we need to be the best doctor and chiropractor than we can.Dr. Tirimacco
Earn Your Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) at New York Chiropractic College
For more than a century, New York Chiropractic College has been educating chiropractors who join the ranks of the best doctors in the world. A passion for health and real-world experience is our way of life. It's apparent in our dedicated faculty, technology-enabled classrooms, and the unique clinical experiences and clerkships available to each chiropractic student. Why NYCC, you ask? It's our commitment to healing through science and care that makes the difference.