Chiropractic, University News

What the Modernized Competency-Centered Chiropractic Program Means for You  

A Q&A with Dean Katie BurnsRyan about the Exciting Change to Our Chiropractic Program 

This fall, Northwestern Health Sciences University is rolling out the first Competency-Centered Chiropractic Program in the country. We think it’s a big deal! But what does it mean for you?   

We checked in with Dr. BurnsRyan the Dean of the College of Chiropractic at NWHSU to understand how this new model of teaching will help you feel more confident in your skills and get you thinking like a doctor from day one.   

We made a top 3 chiropractic program even better.   

NWHSU already had the #2 board scores in the country, and more hands-on time than any other chiropractic school. Our graduates were already prepared and successful.   

“But one thing we heard was that even though our graduates were competent, they didn’t always feel confident at graduation,” explained Dean BurnsRyan. “We know patients expect confidence, so we challenged ourselves to make a top program even better.”   

When you’re building a brand-new career, confidence can make all the difference. So how will this program get you there? We asked your most burning questions about the new model:   

What is a competency-centered chiropractic program?   

What we’re offering is a credit-based, course-based competency-centered curriculum.   

In a traditional curricular model, each subject is taught in an individual class, and whether you pass or fail the course is dependent on cumulative tests. If you learn 70% of the material, you move forward. It can be difficult to understand how it all fits together, or how it applies to your future practice.   

Competency-Centered Chiropractic Program

Here’s what changes in our competency-centered model:   

Learn Everything You Need to Learn 

Chiropractic school is a major investment, so you don’t want to slip by without learning the key skills and subjects.   

In the competency-centered model, you’ll need to demonstrate mastery of each competency in order to move forward. That may sound daunting, but unlike a traditional testing model, you keep trying until you succeed. This happens throughout the trimester, during in-person assessments that often take place in a mock-clinical environment. When something isn’t clicking for you, we’ll catch it early, and support you in getting where you need to be.  

“For example, in a traditional model you could pass the Methods 4 class without mastering a side posture adjustment” explained Dean Burns Ryan. “How? Because on the test you could compensate with other things that you’re grasping more easily. In our model, you won’t pass Methods 4 without competently executing a side posture, along with other required competencies. If it’s difficult for you, we’ll catch that early and get you the support you need.”   

Team Teaching that Eliminates Silos 

“Our goal is to eliminate the question ‘why am I learning this?’” shared Dean BurnsRyan.

Instead of taking a dozen classes at a time, you’ll take fewer classes, team-taught by our impressive faculty. They’ll break down the silos in your coursework, and help you make connections between topics that in a traditional model, you’re expected to figure out on your own.  

“You’ll learn in a way that mirrors how chiropractors care for our patients,” explained Dean BurnsRyan. “We don’t just treat a joint but consider the whole person—from their general health to the kinetic chain the joint is part of.”    

Each week, you’ll also have an in-person integrative lab, where you’ll apply what you’ve learned to a real-world scenario. In this lab you’ll also take competency-based exams.  

Flipped Classrooms and Flexibility for How You Learn 

Gone are the days of spending an entire day in the auditorium passively listening to lectures. “We’ve learned from this generation of students that you all have different preferences for how you take in lecture material,” said Dr. BurnsRyan. “So, we’ve designed a program where you can make the choices that suit your learning preferences for the competencies under study.”   

Most lectures will be either hybrid—giving you the option of coming to campus or watching from home—or completely asynchronous, meaning you can watch them completely on your own schedule: either from one of our study spaces on campus, or at home in your pajamas.  

This is known as a flipped classroom, and we’re excited for how it can be personalized by each student.   

Person-Centered On-Campus Learning 

You’ll still spend 4-5 days a week on campus, but you’ll be learning in an active, hands-on way when you’re here. That also creates more time for one-on-one interaction with your professors. They’ll know early what’s going well for you, and where you need more practice.  

“What I’m excited about is how person-centered this curriculum is,” explained Dean Burns Ryan. “We’re creating an environment where professors can adapt to the strengths and areas for improvement of each cohort.”  

Competency-Centered Chiropractic Program

Clinical Internships Beginning Trimester One 

In this new model, you’ll start your clinical internships in trimester one with clinical observation and experientials. Your internships will advance into more active experiences and patient interaction from term to term.  Learning in the clinic helps you grow your empathy: you’ll work with real people impacted by the conditions you’re learning about in class.  

In Trimester 6 and 7 you engage in even more patient care at our on-campus De Rusha Clinic, providing care to the campus community.  

You then progress into our Community Based Internship Program (CBI) in which you are fully immersed in all aspects of chiropractic and in locations you select (and remember, NWHSU offers more options than anywhere else). This experience more accurately reflects the type of business practice and clinical focus you want to provide to your future patients.    

Will I still be able to pass my boards?   

You might wonder why we would change something that was already working so well. We’re proud of our curriculum: it not only prepares our students for boards, but to be competent doctors, making a real difference for patients.   

But at NWHSU, we’ve always pushed to be on the frontline of chiropractic education, and it was time to build a model that fits today’s learners, propelling you to be the doctors our healthcare system needs.   

What is not changing is the curriculum that is already working so well. The program will remain rigorous and evidence informed. What you’re learning won’t change. We are changing how you learn that information.   

You will still be very well prepared for your boards, in fact, we expect students to approach them with more confidence.   

  • Part 1 boards are taken at the end of trimester 4 and cover the basic sciences. In the new model, trimester 4 will include a comprehensive review of basic sciences topics in preparation for applying this content in the next phase of your clinical internship which will only further prepare you for boards. 
  • Part 2, 3, and 4 boards are skills-based. With more hands-on practice from day one, and in-clinic competency assessments throughout, you’ll enter your boards with confidence.   

How can I learn more and get started?   

You won’t find this model at any other chiropractic school in the country. Ready to dive in? Request information, schedule a tour, or apply today!