North American chiropractic student survey spurs discussion on future of profession

Liala Helal | March 14, 2015

Dr. Cheryl Hawk visited Northwestern Feb. 25 to present the University’s survey results against students from other colleges in a North American chiropractic student survey.

Dr. Cheryl Hawk

Northwestern Health Sciences University chiropractic students helped give a glimpse into what sets the school’s curriculum apart and how their opinions could align the future of the profession.

In what is being called the first published study surveying chiropractic student perspectives on their professional identity, role and future of the field, one of the study’s 13 authors, Dr. Cheryl Hawk, visited Northwestern Feb. 25 from Logan University, College of Chiropractic to explain what stood out about Northwestern student responses. The study, titled “Chiropractic Identity, Role and Future: A Survey of North American Chiropractic Students” was published in “Chiropractic & Manual Therapies” in early February.

“To me, the main thing about this survey is it gives us food for thought,” Dr. Hawk said. ”It’s like a fishing expedition. We throw a broad net and see what we get.”

One of the most notable results was Northwestern students responded that they agree or strongly agree that “scientific evidence is more important than traditional chiropractic theory” more than peers at other schools. While 60 percent of Northwestern respondents agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, 51 percent was the number for all other schools.

Cheryl Hawk“I think students’ evidence-based practice is here to stay,” Dr. Hawk said. “They want to be mainstream, they want to have options. We got that message loud and clear.”

When it comes to chiropractic identity, Northwestern students’ opinion was that doctors of chiropractic should be integrated into mainstream health care, more than student respondents from other schools. Northwestern showed 84 percent of students thought chiropractors should be mainstream, in contrast to 68 percent for all other schools.

Northwestern was also higher on opinion for prescription rights for chiropractors, with 47 percent of Northwestern students agreeing that chiropractic scope of practice should include prescription rights. Only 24 percent of students from all other schools agreed.

Students in the audience during the presentation explained to Dr. Hawk that they interpreted the phrase “prescription rights” as having the authority to change a prescription or take a patient off of a prescription when answering the survey, not necessarily the right to prescribe medication.

Language interpretation in the electronically administered survey was one of the limitations, Dr. Hawk explained. Since some students may have answered differently based on individual understanding of each question, the data results may vary.

“It’s not a perfect survey by any means, but it certainly is thought-provoking to see students’ opinions,” Dr. Hawk said.

The response rate was also a consideration. Across North America, 19 schools or institutions were invited to participate, but only 12 of those participated. The overall response rate was 17 percent of students who received the survey. Northwestern’s response rate was 18 percent. Although that sounds low, Dr. Hawk said “that’s not bad for an electronically administered survey.” The total number of student participants across North America was 1,247, out of the 7,455 who were asked to take the survey.

Carolyn WeissNorthwestern Health Sciences University chiropractic student Carolyn Weiss, now in her fifth trimester, attended the presentation and said she was happy to see that more and more students are valuing scientific evidence, especially if they want to integrate into mainstream healthcare.

“It’s exciting that the students think research is important for the forward movement of our profession,” Weiss said, explaining that peer-reviewed studies are needed to bring other medical professionals on board more than anecdotal stories about how a chiropractic method helps someone’s health. “We need the scientific evidence to tell the rest of the medical community that it works. Yes, we know chiropractic works, but we know the rest of the world doesn’t, unless we have evidence of it.”

She noted that there is still quite a divide between science and philosophy in chiropractic students in general, and in the profession. She added the fact that Northwestern students take an evidence-based practice class early on in their studies may explain the higher agreement on that survey question.

Dr. Kashif Ahmad, associate professor at Northwestern and associate director of the Office of Faculty Development was one of the co-authors of the study.

“The most outstanding feature of the study was the collaboration between so many chiropractic colleges involved with this survey,” Dr. Ahmad said.

He said the study is also significant because of the lack of data in the past about student opinions, until this study.

“There’s not been enough data collected on chiropractic philosophy from a student perspective about the future of the profession,” Dr. Ahmad said. “There’s very little collaborative research, especially in chiropractic education. This is a unique survey.”

Dr. Kashif Ahmad He said the survey is a good start to get a first glimpse, and can help colleges plan curricula for the future of the profession.

“I think chiropractic philosophy and scientific research can go hand in hand,” Dr. Ahmad said. “And it was interesting to see, because we do teach evidence-based courses in our curriculum, and that was reflected in the survey. It was pleasing to see that our students do understand evidence-based practice.”

He added it would be helpful to ask faculty these same questions, because faculty can have very diverse opinions across different institutions. More studies could help chiropractic colleges design curricula geared toward the future, he said.

“Since integrative medicine will definitely fit in the future healthcare model, there will be a need to strengthen and improve our evidence-based courses, not to forget to continually strive for basic science research that was evident from the survey,” he said.

Dr. Cheryl Hawk was the first recipient of the Sweere Family Scholarship Visiting Scholars Award, which paid for her travel expenses and her honorarium, said Dr. Joseph Sweere, founder of Northwestern’s HC Sweere Center for Clinical Biomechanics and Applied Ergonomics.

“Even though the study had somewhat limited participation, the outcomes do provide all our stakeholders with valuable information that could be helpful in guiding the profession’s future,” Dr. Sweere said. “It was exciting to observe the number of our students that attended Dr. Hawk’s presentation and the robust discussion that followed.”


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