Often times, lay people are shocked to hear what the education of a chiropractic physician looks like. The rigor, length, detail, and difficulty of education is expected for medical doctors, but often a surprise to many when discussing chiropractic education. For instance, like medical doctors, chiropractic physicians are responsible for the health of their patients.
If you're interested in learning more about how to become a chiropractor, you must understand that the path to becoming a chiropractic physician must be rigorous and demanding in order to ensure the safety and health of chiropractic patients.
Chiropractors have to be an advocate for their patients.
The most important reason chiropractic medicine programs need to be rigorous and intensive is for patient care. Patients rely on physicians to help them feel better. To properly provide a high-level of care, a chiropractic physician must have a solid education and understanding of a wide range of medical conditions and procedures.
A doctor of chiropractic must know how to take a thorough history, complete a comprehensive exam, determine a list of differential diagnoses, and provide safe, effective treatment of the working diagnosis. So often, patients come to your office for a second opinion, having tried various other treatment options. With the right expertise, you can offer patients a new perspective on their health care that other doctors may not have considered.
A perfect example is a patient of mine “Sue,” a 38-year-old with right-sided low back pain, right antalgic lean, and needed assistance to get on and off my table. She brought X-rays and MRI results from her prior doctor, which showed no issues. However, one thing I noticed was her splitting fingernails and decaying teeth. She noted she had dry mouth and dry eyes as well. I suggested blood work for a full workup with the intention of looking for autoimmune disease, in particular Sjogren’s syndrome. While her primary care doctor disagreed, she eventually found a new doctor that was willing to consider testing, and it was determined that she, in fact, had Sjogren’s syndrome.
This is why our education must be rigorous. Chiropractors need to be an advocate for patients, which requires a solid foundation of knowledge.
Chiropractors need to be up-to-date on today’s health care industry.
In school, chiropractic physicians don’t just learn about the modalities they may choose to utilize in practice. A rigorous chiropractic education should be constantly evolving to include current research and trends in health care, along with the different medical and insurance models. By understanding the needs of our current health care system, doctors of chiropractic will remain a vital part of assisting society to have access to necessary health care.
As health care has changed over time, the need and demand for chiropractic physicians has grown significantly. In addition to private practice, chiropractors today are working in multi-disciplinary clinics, treating within functional medicine paradigms, and utilizing many modalities to help patients reach their greatest health and wellness potential.
As patients begin looking outside the traditional medical model, chiropractors will find themselves seeing more complex patient needs. Because of the in-depth medical training chiropractors receive, we are better prepared for our role in today’s health care industry.
Chiropractors must earn the right to be called doctor — not therapist.
Being a doctor with the ability to properly diagnose and treat patients requires a thorough understanding of the human body and its processes. Similar to the training undergone by medical doctors, chiropractic physicians gain a solid foundation of the basic sciences with coursework in physiology, neurology, pathology, anatomy, and more. In fact, a chiropractic medicine education at National University includes a full year of hands-on human cadaver dissection for a thorough understanding of the human anatomy. Students also take 100 hours of pharmacology before going on to complete a year of clinical internship or rotations. During the clinical sciences phase of their education, students practice examination skills with a heavy emphasis on thorough diagnostic skills, in addition to performing chiropractic modalities.
Furthermore, in order to practice, chiropractic physicians must be licensed. After obtaining their degree, they must pass four sets of national board exams. To maintain their license, they must complete continuing education to be sure they are current on the latest natural medicine practice innovations and research.
Chiropractors must have confidence in their skills and treatment methods.
While in practice, you can expect to encounter a wide range of patient populations and ailments. In a single day, you may see patients with mechanical back pain, neurological symptoms, psychologically enhanced pain, nutritional deficits causing systemic inflammation, and headaches. Treating these types of patients requires confidence in a chiropractic physician’s own expertise and treatment methods.
There is no patient a chiropractic physician can’t treat or refer out to a doctor in another discipline. However, this requires a high level of diagnostic skill along with the ability to speak the same "language" as other physicians such as medical doctors, doctor of osteopathic, naturopathic medicine doctors, and more.
Therefore, it is important to research chiropractic programs to ensure they provide an extensive, in-depth education that trains you to think like a physician. That way, you will ensure you are better prepared for today's health care industry.
At National University chiropractic students are trained as primary care physicians. They learn to diagnose and manage a full range of patient conditions while also being taught how to refer and co-manage patient cases with physicians in other medical specialties. National University’s focus on integrative medicine enables its graduates to establish strong referral networks with other physicians, gain respect in the medical community, and most importantly, provide better advice and care for their patients.
Are you curious about what it takes to become a chiropractic physician? Or how to begin your journey in chiropractic medicine? If so, we invite you to check out our new digital resource — A Career Guide to Becoming a Doctor of Chiropractic.
About the Author
Dr. Shelby Plante