How to Become a Chiropractor
Chiropractors play an integral role in improving people’s health and well-being—plus, they’re helping to meet a growing demand for noninvasive treatment options. If you’re considering a career in healthcare, you should know this is an exciting time to join the chiropractic profession. Learn how to become a chiropractor below with this comprehensive overview.
We’ll answer questions like these:
- How long does it take to become a chiropractor?
- How long is chiropractic school?
- What courses are involved in chiropractic education?
- What are the most important chiropractor requirements?
- What should you major in to become a chiropractor?
- What are the career advantages of being a chiropractor?
- What are key questions to ask when looking at chiropractic programs?
Why do we know so much about becoming a chiropractor? Since our founding in 1941, more than 7,500 chiropractors have graduated from the Northwestern Health Sciences University (NWHSU) chiropractic program.
How long does it take to become a chiropractor?
Becoming a chiropractor first requires at least three years of undergraduate study. You may then be eligible to enroll in a Doctor of Chiropractic degree program, which can take anywhere from three and a half to five years to complete and requires a minimum of 4,200 instructional hours.
How long is chiropractic school?
Accredited Doctor of Chiropractic degree programs must provide a minimum of 4,200 instructional hours. Some programs extend their curriculum over a longer period of time and can take as many as five years to complete. Others cover more in a shorter period and take significantly less time.
At NWHSU, for example, you can complete your chiropractic degree in three and a half years. Students attend classes year-round, have shorter breaks, and carry a heavier course load.
Note that there are a number of advantages to this:
- Faster completion time means graduating with less student loan debt.
- You can begin your professional career sooner.
- The rigorous coursework and faster pace can better prepare you for the professional environment you’ll enter.
What courses are involved in chiropractic education?
A Doctor of Chiropractic degree program will generally involve three major phases of education: science coursework related to the human body; coursework in clinical and chiropractic sciences; and clinical internships.
- Basic sciences. This involves studying the complexities of the human body and its systems. You will take discipline-specific courses like biochemistry, anatomy, and physiology. Additionally, some programs incorporate hands-on chiropractic techniques early on.
- Clinical and chiropractic sciences. In this phase, you will study physician-patient interaction, physical examinations, etiology (cause) of disease, diagnosis, and treatment. This phase may also include business-focused coursework to prepare you for a professional chiropractic practice.
- Clinical internships. This last major phase moves you fully from theory to practice. As a chiropractic intern, you will be in real-world clinical settings and take on patient cases alongside an experienced chiropractor. Note that some chiropractic schools have their own clinics in which students can intern and experience working with various patient populations.
For more details on chiropractic education, take a look at the chiropractic school curriculum at NWHSU.
Watch NWHSU graduate Dr. Brittany Schmidt discuss her clinical internship experience.
What are the most important chiropractor requirements?
Becoming a chiropractor requires attending chiropractic school, earning a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, passing a series of exams administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, and securing licensure in the state, province, or relevant jurisdiction where you plan to practice.
Once you’ve gained these chiropractor credentials, continuing education courses are required to maintain your licensure. See above for more specifics on chiropractic education.
What should you major in to become a chiropractor?
Chiropractic schools vary in their prerequisites. As a general rule, choosing an undergraduate major such as human biology, exercise science, or kinesiology can be beneficial if you plan to eventually apply to chiropractic school. These majors require a heavy course load in the sciences and, more specifically, involve studying the human body.
Note that majors like those suggested above are not necessarily required for enrolling in a chiropractic program. If you have questions related to your eligibility for enrolling in a given chiropractic program, contact the admissions department.
Keep in mind that some chiropractor programs, such as NWHSU’s, allow you to complete your bachelor’s degree while attending chiropractic school.
What are the career advantages of being a chiropractor?
Why should I become a chiropractor? A perfectly understandable question, especially if you’re considering other options like a medical doctor or a physical therapist. Let’s take a look at the advantages of a chiropractic career.
By becoming a chiropractor, you have an opportunity to do the following:
Help fill the need for primary care health professionals
There is a growing need for primary healthcare professionals. Chiropractic doctors can serve in this capacity, customizing treatment around all aspects of health while emphasizing natural methods of care. More specifically, with opioid abuse now considered an epidemic, a chiropractic doctor’s non-invasive services are becoming an accepted primary care approach for pain management.
Join a profession with a bright future
The field of chiropractic is expanding, with a positive job growth rate predicted for the coming decade and an extremely low unemployment rate. Also, according to the American Chiropractic Association, “Chiropractic treatment is a covered benefit in virtually all traditional insurance policies.” Meanwhile, it’s becoming increasingly common for healthcare professionals like medical doctors, physical therapists, and massage therapists to refer their patients to chiropractic doctors. Watch Katie Burns Ryan, DC, Dean of the College of Chiropractic at Northwestern Health Sciences University, talk about why she became a chiropractor and also why it’s a great time to join the profession.
Enjoy the freedom to create your own career path
The chiropractic profession offers a high degree of autonomy, especially compared to other healthcare professions. Self-employment at a solo practice is a viable and highly popular option for chiropractic graduates.
But you also have a wide range of other possibilities:
- Group practice offices, where multiple chiropractors provide care
- Integrative clinics, where chiropractors and other healthcare professionals like massage therapists and acupuncturists provide care
- Primary care clinics
- Multidisciplinary clinics
- VA Medical Centers
- Corporate settings
- Fitness centers
- Sports team facilities
A chiropractic doctor can also choose to focus on a specific patient population. Here are some examples:
- Underserved populations
- Pregnant women
- Hospital patients
- Amateur athletes
- Professional athletes and sports team
Note that you can start preparing to treat specific types of patients while in chiropractic school. For instance, NWHSU offers a Doctor of Chiropractic – Sports Emphasis degree.
Meet the growing demand for non-invasive treatment options
There is a growing demand for healthcare options that don’t involve drugs or surgery. Chiropractors—and their non-invasive treatment strategies—are poised to play a key role in healthcare’s evolution.
Chiropractors maintain that the human body possesses an inherent ability to heal itself. By using treatment methods that don’t involve surgery or pharmaceuticals, chiropractors can restore or rehabilitate certain body functions, and even prevent further disability.
Be part of the whole-person healthcare movement
Chiropractors take the whole body into consideration when they diagnose and treat patients. In fact, more people are realizing the benefits of whole-person healthcare, which is leading to a growing demand for chiropractors.
They focus on how musculoskeletal structures, body function, and the nervous system are closely interrelated. They also understand how conditions in one area of the body can affect other areas, as well as a person’s overall health and well-being.
Find exciting opportunities in integrative healthcare
Integrative healthcare is a growing patient-focused approach that bridges disciplines such as chiropractic with the kind of mainstream medicine typically practiced in hospitals and primary care clinics.
Healthcare professionals like chiropractors will become increasingly integral to how healthcare is delivered. This movement in healthcare is also creating more opportunities for chiropractors to open integrative healthcare clinics.
Help patients achieve better overall health and wellness
Chiropractors have the knowledge and training to provide health and wellness assessments and can make recommendations on diet, exercise, and other factors that can improve a patient’s health and well-being.
This is especially important as more and more people proactively seek ways to live a healthier life.
Acquire a deep understanding of how the body works
Are you fascinated by the human body? Would you like to gain a deep understanding of it? Compared to medical or physical therapy students, chiropractic students receive more training in anatomy, physiology, diagnosis, x-ray, and orthopedics.
What are key questions to ask when looking at chiropractic programs?
If you’re thinking about chiropractic school, you’ll want to weigh a number of factors. Here are come critical questions to ask as you explore your chiropractic program options:
How will the program’s clinical opportunities provide experience to be successful when you graduate?
Look for a program that provides you the opportunity to work alongside licensed chiropractic doctors—both observing them and assisting them. You should then be allowed to treat patients by yourself, all the while having experienced chiropractors as your mentors.
Also, as you consider chiropractic schools, be aware that those with robust community-based internship programs empower students to have a wider range of experiences with various chiropractic techniques and patient populations.
For example, at NWHSU we realize that clinical internships have the potential to shape your interests, your career, and your life. Through our vast network of more than 150 healthcare connections in the Twin Cities Metro Area and beyond, we help students find rewarding internships.
NWHSU also has multiple clinics of our own, both on and off campus, that serve the public. These enable our chiropractic students to conveniently work with practicing clinicians and gain hands-on experience with real patients.
To learn more about the internship experience of our chiropractic students, check out this video on NWHSU’s community-based internships.
How does the program rank nationally in Chiropractic Board Scores?
You want a program that thoroughly prepares student to navigate the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) and earn their licensing process.
Check to see where the school ranks on average NBCE board scores. This is one important reflection of a program’s effectiveness. The culture of a chiropractic program should help instill students with a solid foundation of knowledge and understanding so that they are well-prepared for board exams—and a chiropractic career.
Also, inquire about the faculty. How accessible are they when it comes to providing personalized help when a student needs it?
Does the program have features like dual degree options and specialized areas of focus?
What kind of chiropractor do you want to be? You have the potential to practice in a wide range of environments, specialize in treatments, and focus on specific patient populations.
A program that offers specialties, dual degree options, and other ways to customize your chiropractic education can better prepare you for a career path that’s right for you.
For instance, NWHSU has a widely respected Sports Emphasis chiropractic degree that prepares students to treat athletes. Also, to save students both time and program costs, we offer numerous dual degree options through a variety of academic partnerships.
Plus, we provide a degree completion option for a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Biology that you can take concurrently with the Doctor of Chiropractic program.
How well will the program prepare you for the future of healthcare?
Healthcare as we know it is changing in exciting ways. Make sure you investigate how effectively a given program will prepare you for the future. For example, will you be ready for an integrative approach to healthcare?
To illustrate how an educational environment can prepare you, consider NWHSU. Our model of integrative healthcare cultivates an environment of collaborative and innovative care focused on the health and well-being of each patient.
An integrative approach also involves being knowledgeable about other providers’ scopes of practice and knowing how to work directly with them. At NWHSU, students have a unique opportunity to learn, grow, and partner with fellow students from a variety of other disciplines, including:
- Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine
- Massage Therapy
- Medical Assisting
- Medical Laboratory Science
- Medical Laboratory Technology
- Radiation Therapy
- Radiologic Technology
- Sports and Human Performance
What is the school’s chiropractic philosophy and why does this matter?
Chiropractic schools have obvious similarities with one another. After all, their goal is to prepare students for the chiropractic profession. Yet they can also differ in profound ways.
As you familiarize yourself with a prospective school, try to understand the school’s educational approach and its adherence to any one philosophy on chiropractic care. You can do that by exploring questions like these:
- How does it view the role of a chiropractor in a person’s overall healthcare?
- How grounded in the sciences is it?
- How important are evidence-based methods in the school’s program?
At NWHSU, for example, we focus on science and seek evidence to support the way we treat our patients. We do not promote any one specific chiropractic philosophy. Rather, we foster critical thinking and intellectual honesty.
We also strive to evolve in ways that ultimately provide improved chiropractic care to patients.
While we honor our rich chiropractic history, we are not defined by it. Instead, we strive to create an environment for academic debate and exploration of ideas.
Is the school accredited?
What’s the school like?
The best way to find out what a chiropractic school is like is by visiting. If it’s not possible to attend in person, check out the program’s virtual events.
Similarly, to get a feel for the campus and the life of a student, you can schedule a virtual visit.
You may also want to speak with current students to see how accessible and responsive instructors and other faculty are to answer questions and provide extra support to help you succeed.
Where is it located?
Think through the implications of the school’s location. Take NWHSU for instance. It’s located in the Twin Cities Metro Area, a progressive healthcare innovation hub within a state that includes healthcare industry leaders such as Mayo Clinic and Medtronic.
In fact, Minnesota has been ranked the No. 1 Best State for Health Care in 2020 because of its exceptional healthcare system and its residents’ healthy way of life.
NWHSU has cultivated partnerships with institutions in the region, giving students more opportunities to make connections, gain valuable experience, and plan their future.
And don’t forget to research the location in terms of overall lifestyle. Remember, you’ll be spending several years in the area.
The Twin Cities area consistently ranks in the top ten most livable places in the U.S. It offers a big city experience when it comes to restaurants, professional sports teams, and arts and entertainment. Yet it also creates a community feeling through its unique neighborhoods, beautiful lakeside parks, and hundreds of miles of biking and walking trails.
Get a firsthand perspective of living in the Twin Cities area from this former NWHSU chiropractic student.
How much will it cost?
This question should encompass not only tuition and fees but also all the other expenses that will be involved in attending school. For example, if you’ll be relocating, what is the cost of rent?
Also, a chiropractic program should be as transparent as possible as it clearly lays out just how much it will cost to attend.
Make sure you incorporate financial concerns into your search early on. The best place to start is with a school’s financial aid specialists. And be sure to also research both school-sponsored scholarships and external scholarships.
Your next step: reach out for more information
Exploring the possibility of a chiropractic career is an exciting time! You’ve just absorbed a lot of information on how to become a chiropractor. Want help putting it all in perspective? Do you have questions about your specific situation?
Reach out to NWHSU for personalized support on your path to being a chiropractor.