Understanding a Chiropractor’s Salary: The Story Behind the Numbers
How much is a chiropractor’s salary? If you’re searching for an easy answer to that question, be warned: You may find a wide range of numbers. That’s why it’s so important to understand the nuances – and important realities – behind a chiropractor salary.
It’s also important to go beyond dollar amounts and consider the career factors that are arguably just as important, says Trevor Foshang, DC, DACBR, Dean, College of Chiropractic at Northwestern Health Sciences University.
Yes, says Foshang, being a chiropractor can be financially rewarding. But he adds that it’s important to take into account a number of other factors as well.
“I’m talking about everything from lower stress levels and schedule flexibility to job security, entrepreneurial potential, and overall job satisfaction,” Foshang says.
Below, we’ll take a look at some of those factors. But first, let’s get into those potentially confusing salary numbers.
What (and who) is behind the numbers?
There’s no shortage of sources regarding a chiropractor’s income. For example, here’s a breakdown of six websites that address the topic. Note the salaries reflect information from the original time of this writing.
|Average Yearly Salary Amount||Source|
|$85,870||U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics|
For help on getting a better understanding of these numbers, here are four key considerations.
1. Pay attention to where the sources are getting their information
Websites like those listed above can all help give you an idea of a chiropractor’s earning potential. But where do those numbers come from? Let’s take a closer look.
Chiropractic Economics is an online community and a long-running magazine dedicated to providing news and information for chiropractors. It also conducts an annual survey on chiropractor salaries and expenses.
For the most recent survey, just under 500 chiropractors responded. Note that the $107,310 that Chiropractor Economics reports as the average salary refers to owner-operators of chiropractic practices.
For associates – chiropractors who are non-owner employees at a practice – the average salary was $63,412.
Job-seeking sites with employee reviews
Historically speaking, owning and running a private practice has been the most common way chiropractors have earned a living. That’s important to note when you turn to sites such as Glassdoor, Indeed, and ZipRecruiter.
Why? Because these are employee-oriented sites that base much of their data on job listings and individual employees reporting their salaries. That means the numbers these sites report reflect associate salaries.
This fact doesn’t make the sites less valid. Rather, you should keep in mind that what associates earn will typically differ from what owner-operators earn. (In fact, that point is borne out by the above Chiropractic Economics survey results.)
Salary.com is in a class of its own because of how it derives its salary amounts. Rather than using individual site users or job postings, the company states that it uses “100 percent employer-reported information” derived “from hundreds of commercially available, top-tier surveys as well as local, industry, and association surveys.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics
Finally, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) is by far the most comprehensive in its data collection. Although there may be a few exceptions, its data essentially reflect nearly everyone who reports income as a full-time chiropractor in the U.S.
Note that the BLS provides both the “mean annual wage” (i.e., the average) and the median income, which marks the middle point of all salaries (i.e., half of the salaries reported were above the number and half were below.)
HRZone, a site dedicated to providing HR consulting advice, states that “the median wage is the more accurate estimate of the ‘average’ wage” because it isn’t skewed by income extremes on either end.
If you’re looking for the freshest data, the BLS may be somewhat behind due to the rigorous and time-consuming data collection methods it uses.
2. Keep in mind taxable income for owners vs. employees
The field of chiropractic treatment has been dominated by solo practices. Chiropractors in these cases double as business owners. That means they have a host of overhead tax-deductible business expenses that can lower their reported taxable income.
To understand what a chiropractor truly earns, this is an important point. The reported income for these chiropractors may appear lower than what some would expect (or hope).
However, that income – thanks to legitimate tax deductions – may not necessarily reflect the true financial rewards these chiropractors enjoy.
In turn, the income of chiropractors as associates at private practices or employees at clinics, hospitals, or other kinds of settings will not reflect the various kinds of deductions that private practice owner-operators have.
3. Remember that geography matters
Not surprisingly, where you practice as a chiropractor will influence how much you make. Keep this in mind as you’re looking at overall “average” salaries.
The BLS actually provides a variety of geographic-related information with a state-by-state breakdown.
4. Understand that compensation will vary with the work setting
Owning or working at a private chiropractic practice is by no means the only work environment today for chiropractors.
So if you’re trying to understand what a chiropractor can make, know that your compensation will vary from one setting to another. Chiropractors today can work in a variety of places beyond private practices. Here are a few examples:
- Multidisciplinary clinics
- Primary care clinics
- Corporate settings
- Fitness centers
Beyond the dollars: the many benefits of being a chiropractor
As you get a better sense of the earning potential for chiropractors, you should also consider a number of other important factors – and attractive features – that are part of being a chiropractor.
Let’s return to Trevor Foshang, DC, DACBR, from Northwestern Health Sciences University to better understand some of them. With 20 years of chiropractic experience, in both academia and the private sector, Foshang has seen the field of chiropractic evolve in exciting ways.
A promising job outlook (to say the least)
For the past decade or so, Foshang says there’s been a lot of talk about what a great time it is to become a chiropractor. “After you’ve heard that a half dozen times, it can start to sound like just another line.”
However, today Foshang says it’s anything but that.
“I can honestly say for the first time in my professional career, I actually do think it’s never been a better time to become a chiropractor.”
And there’s plenty of evidence to back up his optimism:
- The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 12% job growth rate between 2016 and 2026. That’s almost twice as fast as the average growth rate for all occupations.
- Today, most insurance plans include coverage for chiropractic care. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 87% of insured Americans have plans covering chiropractic care.
- Recent legislation has expanded Veteran Administration (VA) services to include chiropractic care for veterans. “When things happen in the VA, over time large hospital and health systems often follow suit,” says Foshang.
- Given the painkiller/opioid abuse crisis, a chiropractor’s non-invasive services are becoming a popular and effective approach for pain management.
- Closely related, influential entities like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The Joint Commission all support the importance of non-pharmacological approaches for pain relief. Developments like these serve to further strengthen the future of chiropractic care.
A rewarding healthcare career helping others – but with less stress
What about the day-to-day life of a chiropractor? Foshang says that being a chiropractor means being in the people business.
“If you think you’d enjoy connecting with people in the process of providing treatment, helping them heal, and giving guidance to promote their overall health, then chiropractic could be a great fit.”
Along with the satisfaction that comes with helping people, Foshang says that chiropractic offices are low stress environments for both doctors and patients. “Yes, you’re treating people who need care for a range of musculoskeletal problems. The work is definitely serious and demanding, but it’s certainly not an ER.”
A professional path with the potential for a lot of freedom
Chiropractors enjoy a high degree of autonomy, especially compared to other healthcare practitioners. Self-employment – being an owner-operator of your own practice – is a highly popular option for chiropractic graduates.
Foshang says that with your own chiropractic practice, you have considerable freedom to shape your own schedule, choose your office location, and create the kind of work environment you may have always dreamed of.
And for the especially creative and entrepreneurial in spirit, he points to the “tremendous opportunities” that exist today for chiropractors – both to better serve patients and develop a competitive business within the healthcare marketplace.
Here are some examples:
- Create a multidisciplinary integrative clinic by offering massage, acupuncturist, medical, or nutritional consulting to your practice.
- Develop an expertise that allows you to focus on a specific patient population such as children, expectant moms, the elderly, or athletes – to name just a few possibilities.
- Add services like health coaching or rehabilitation expertise.
Freedom in other ways
If being a business owner isn’t for you, you have more freedom than ever to choose from a wide range of work settings, says Foshang.
Chiropractors today can work in a variety of environments, from hospitals and primary care clinics to fitness centers and corporate settings.
Take the next step toward becoming a chiropractor
Are you interested in a career as a chiropractor? Then take the next step and learn how to become a chiropractor.
Want to talk to someone right away about becoming a chiropractor? Contact Northwestern Health Sciences University today!
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