How to Become a Chiropractor in 5 Steps

Explore the career requirements for chiropractors. Get the facts about education, salary, licensing requirements and job growth to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Allied Health degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Does a Chiropractor Do?

Chiropractors are licensed medical specialists who use manipulation techniques to treat musculoskeletal and nervous system problems. After assessing a patient's physical condition by familiarizing themselves with a patient's medical history and discussing the patient's concerns, they analyze the patient's reflexes, posture and the condition of his or her spine, through a series of tests and possibly the use of x-rays. They then apply specific therapeutic techniques, which can include the application of heat or cold to the target area and skeletal manipulation. They also advise patients on lifestyle adjustments and may refer them to other healthcare practitioners.

The following chart provides an overview about this career.

Degree Required Doctor of Chiropractic
Licensing or Certification All states require chiropractors to be licensed
Key Responsibilities Conduct patient examinations, take patient history, conduct medical and diagnostic tests, make diagnoses and perform neuromusculoskeletal and other therapy or treatments, make medical referrals, advise patients regarding lifestyle and other health issues
Median Salary (2015) $64,440*
Job Growth (2014-2024) 17%*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

What Is a Chiropractor?

A chiropractor is a medical practitioner who treats problems of the musculoskeletal and nervous system through external manipulation of the body. As a chiropractor, you might also consider the effect that hereditary, dietary and environmental factors might have on a patient's health and then recommend changes in exercise, nutrition and rest habits to address them. Your specific duties include interviewing patients about their medical histories, evaluating the condition of a patient through analysis of x-rays and direct observation, diagnosing ailments according to chiropractic principles, performing adjustments to the spine and limbs, and referring patients to other practitioners.

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma

You can begin preparing for your future chiropractic studies with high school courses in physics, biology, chemistry and mathematics. Courses in English and social studies can help you develop your communication and research skills. You will also need a high school diploma or G.E.D. to enroll in an undergraduate program.

Step 2: Earn an Undergraduate Degree

An undergraduate degree may either be a 2-year associate's degree or a 4-year bachelor's degree. However, to qualify for a chiropractic doctoral program you need 90 or more undergraduate credits in general education and must also complete courses in organic and inorganic chemistry, physics and biology. Because associate's degree programs are usually only 60 credit hours, many aspiring chiropractors opt for a bachelor's degree in biology or another relevant subject.

Bachelor's degree programs in biology provide you with a broad introduction to the science of living things. Courses address such topics as evolution, genetics, botany and zoology. Some programs may have a pre-med concentration or offer specializations in biotechnology, microbiology or molecular biology.

Step 3: Earn a Doctorate

While some schools may offer a 5-year program and others offer 3+3 programs that combine a bachelor's degree with a doctorate, most Doctor of Chiropractic degree programs last four years. You need at least 4,200 hours of clinical, lab and classroom study to earn such a degree. The first half of a 4-year program emphasizes courses in anatomy and physiology, biochemistry, microbiology and public health. In the second half you devote more time to lab work and clinical experiences in spinal adjustments and manipulations. Other areas of study include physical diagnosis, nutrition, orthopedics and neurology.

Step 4: Obtain a License

You need a license in all U.S. states and the District of Columbia to practice as a chiropractor. To be eligible for licensure you have to complete at least two years of postsecondary education and four years of chiropractic training at an accredited school. More states are starting to require a 4-year bachelor's degree. Licensure typically entails passing the 4-part exam offered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE), although some states combine parts of it with their own supplementary exam.

Each of the NBCE's first three parts consists of 110 multiple-choice questions. Part one tests your knowledge in six areas, including physiology, spinal anatomy and general anatomy. Your knowledge of chiropractic principles, diagnostic imaging and neuromusculoskeletal diagnosis are the subjects of part two. Part three covers nine areas, including physical examination, clinical lab studies and chiropractic technique. The fourth part is a practical exam covering case management, technique and x-ray interpretation. A license is only valid in the state where you earn it, except in states that have reciprocity agreements.

Step 5: Establish a Practice

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 32,080 chiropractors were practicing medicine in 2015. Most had a solo practice. You could also join a group practice or seek employment at a college, a hospital or chiropractic research institution. Employment of chiropractors is projected to increase 17% to about 53,100 from 2014-2024. Growth will be driven by increased interest in non-invasive medical treatments and by the expanding population of elderly patients. As of May 2015 the median annual salary was $64,440.

What Are some Related Alternative Careers?

Occupational therapists help people who are recovering from an accident, traumatic episode or surgery, suffer from developmental disabilities or are disabled in some other way regain or develop the skills necessary in everyday life. They assess the patient's condition and develop and apply a plan of therapeutic treatment as determined by the specific situation. They may recommend special equipment as necessary and exercises aimed at the improvement of the patient's condition. They keep records of the patient's treatments and progress and share this information with other healthcare providers as appropriate.

Though they are not doctors and may be qualified with only a postsecondary non-degree award, massage therapists are similar to chiropractors in that they use touch and manipulation of soft tissue as a therapeutic technique. Such treatment is used to ease or alleviate pain or stress, improve circulation, help heal injuries, promote relaxation and generally improve overall wellness of the patient. Regulation, licensure and certification are determined by state.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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  • Texas Chiropractic College Foundation Inc

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    • Texas: Pasadena
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    • Connecticut: Bridgeport
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    • California: Whittier