Learn About Being a Chiropractor

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published December 10, 2019

What does a chiropractor do?

A chiropractor is a medical practitioner who specializes in treating pain, discomfort or injury in the bones, tendons, ligaments, nerves and muscles of the human body. Their responsibilities often include:

  • Assessing patients’ pain, discomfort, tension or other symptoms throughout the body

  • Treating patients with a variety of health or wellness conditions, including those related to injuries, body weight, stress, sleep patterns and many others

  • Manipulating the body to relieve tension in joints, loosen muscles and ligaments and realign the skeletal system

  • Recommending and performing treatments, such as alignments and hot or cold compresses

  • Advising patients on techniques and at-home exercises to improve posture, reduce strain and decrease tension

  • Meeting with patients on a regular basis to perform a series of treatments or experiment with different treatments in order to alleviate symptoms

  • Promoting overall wellness by encouraging patients to eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and maintain a healthy body weight

Average salary

Salaries for chiropractors depend on their level of experience as well as the type of practice, employer or patients they work with. Geographic location can also impact how much these medical professionals earn.

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $64,495 per year

  • Salaries range from $15,000 – $148,000 per year

Chiropractor requirements

These professionals often need certain qualifications to gain employment, including the following:

Education

Chiropractors are typically required to complete a bachelor’s degree, preferably in a health science, and relevant undergraduate coursework in biology, anatomy and physiology among others. This requirement varies by state. 

In order to gain a license and practice, these medical professionals must earn a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) degree, which typically takes three to five years to complete. These programs offer further education in anatomy, physiology and other relevant sciences. Most of these programs allow students to earn a second degree concurrently and provide opportunities for hands-on, supervised training.

Training

Many D.C. programs require students to spend the final year of their studies completing a clinical internship under the supervision of a licensed, practicing chiropractor. Some students also choose to complete a clinical internship at a hospital to gain further experience interacting with and treating patients.

Certifications

Chiropractors are required to earn licensure in the state in which they practice. Specific requirements may vary by state, but the most common steps include passing the four-part exam administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, including those on state-specific chiropractic and patient care laws, and completing a background check. 

Professionals can only practice in the states in which they are licensed and are required to maintain their licensure with continuing education credits each year. These regulations also vary by state.

In addition to these licensing requirements, chiropractors can earn voluntary certifications that may increase their earning potential and allow them to further tailor their treatments to their patients’ needs. These certifications include the following sponsored by the American Chiropractic Association and the American Board of Chiropractic Specialties:

  • American Board of Chiropractic Acupuncture Diplomate (DABCA): Provided in partnership with the Council of Chiropractic Acupuncture, this certification allows practitioners who’ve performed acupuncture as a treatment to assess and prove their knowledge.

  • Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician (CCSP): This certification is offered by the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians. Candidates who’ve completed 100 hours of the CCSP program, hold an Athletic Trainer Certification or have completed a certain number of course hours in a sports medicine program can take the 250-question multiple-choice exam.

There are a number of other certifications in specializations like pediatrics, neurology, radiology and others that may help these professionals better treat their patients and achieve their professional goals.

Skills

Chiropractors require a number of skills to be successful in their jobs, including:

  • Analytical skills: These medical professionals must be able to accurately assess a patient’s condition and medical history to determine the most effective treatment. They may be required to read x-rays and other medical documentation to understand the source of a patient’s condition and create a tailored plan comprised of physical manipulation, therapy, medication and others.

  • Empathy: Chiropractors need to empathize with each patient’s pain, discomfort, concern or other feelings to ensure their patients have the most comfortable and effective experience in their care. The ability to anticipate possible concerns and questions can also enable these practitioners to best provide comprehensive information patients can apply at home between appointments.

  • Communication: Chiropractors must use active listening to fully understand a patient’s condition and identify their areas of discomfort. They use verbal communication to advise patients on at-home treatments and the overall process they may undergo to address their condition. They also frequently employ written communication when documenting progress and providing additional materials for patients.

  • Interpersonal skills: These practitioners should be able to amicably engage with patients to ensure they are comfortable. They may promote conversation during a session or talk the patient through each step of the process as they perform a manipulation treatment. Chiropractors can also adapt their communication style and methods to best fit what the patient responds to.

  • Attention to detail: Chiropractors must be keen when listening to patients describing the level and location of their pain to properly identify the source and solution. Some symptoms may present themselves in a certain area of the body, but the actual issue may be in a different area of the body. In addition, these practitioners must also use their attention to detail when studying x-rays and medical documentation to correctly identify the source of the patient’s condition.

Chiropractor work environment

These medical professionals typically work full-time hours during the week, though some may work weekends or later hours, depending on their employer or patients’ needs. Chiropractors often work in medical office settings, though some may work in clinics, hospitals or other healthcare institutions that provide chiropractic services. Some chiropractors work in specific industries that require their services, such as athletic organizations in professional leagues and universities.

Chiropractors often use their body to perform realignments and other physical manipulation treatments. This requires physical stamina, strength and dexterity as well as a keen awareness of the patient’s flexibility and tolerance for discomfort.

How to become a chiropractor

These are the most common steps to pursuing this career path:

  1. Pursue a bachelor’s degree. Consider majoring in a health science or relevant hard science that includes coursework in anatomy, physiology, chemistry, physics and others. Some four-year colleges offer bachelor’s degrees in health science and sports medicine.

  2. Complete the Doctor of Chiropractic degree. This degree is required to get a license to practice and provides advanced coursework in anatomy, physiology, psychology, pharmacology and others. Some programs offer business management and finance courses, which may be helpful for those who want to start their own private practice.

  3. Gain hands-on experience. Chiropractic and clinical internships can provide supervised training as you assess, treat and track the progress of patients. While this experience typically occurs in the final year of graduate study, some professionals may work in the healthcare industry during undergraduate studies to observe practitioner-patient interactions and network in the field. Positions such as a medical secretary, nursing assistant or orderly can provide relevant entry-level experience if the candidate has the necessary qualifications to secure those positions.

  4. Get licensed to practice. Study for and complete the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners test, including regulations specific to the state in which you intend to practice. All states require aspiring chiropractors to pass a background check as well. Be sure to check your state’s requirements.

  5. Consider voluntary certification. To further specialize your practice and prove your qualifications, complete the requirements for certifications that best suit your professional goals. There are many certifications, including those in neurology, sports medicine and occupational health.

Chiropractor job description example

Kerry and Wu Chiropractics is seeking a third practitioner to join our private practice. We provide general chiropractic treatment and specialize in pediatrics. The selected candidate will be responsible for most of our new, incoming patients with a variety of chiropractic needs and may handle some recurring patients as needed.

Our new chiropractor should be personable with an excellent bedside manner, especially with younger patients. Previous experience or relevant coursework in pediatric medicine and/or psychology strongly preferred. Must be licensed to practice in the state of Massachusetts. New graduates welcome. Candidates with pediatric chiropractics or acupuncture certification also encouraged to apply.

Related careers

If you’re interested in becoming a chiropractor, consider these similar jobs as well:

  • Physical Therapist

  • Occupational Therapist

  • Athletic Trainer

  • Personal Trainer

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