How to become a chiropractor

Last updated: April 12, 2024
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Eleana Bowman
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How to become a chiropractor
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Chiropractors are health professionals that work with the musculoskeletal system. They often focus on conditions caused by spinal issues, such as neck pain and poor posture.

There are currently 53,200 chiropractor jobs in the U.S. The demand for this specialty is growing quickly, with a 10% increase expected by 2031.

If you want to work as a chiropractor, you should prepare for a long list of educational requirements. The pathway to getting this job is long, but your hard work will pay off.

Want to know more? In this guide, we’ll tell you what a chiropractor does. We’ll also give you a step-by-step guide to starting your career and compare salaries between states.

What is a chiropractor?

Licensed chiropractors have extensive training. We’ll give you a rundown of the career path shortly, but let’s go through the basics first.

These professionals work in a range of settings, including private chiropractic practices and doctor’s offices. They can also be self-employed.

Chiropractic techniques can include spinal adjustments, massage therapy, and rehabilitative exercises.

Some chiropractors have additional specialties. For example, they may have a nutrition, sports medicine, rehabilitation, or acupuncture background.

The work hours for people in this career are usually Monday to Friday, but some weekends may be required. Chiropractors don’t usually work at night or on holidays.

Part-time, full-time, and flexible positions are available.

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Chiropractors aren’t medical doctors and can’t write prescriptions. However, they do need a doctorate in chiropractic. If they have this, they can diagnose and treat certain conditions.

What does a chiropractor do?

Now, let’s take a look at the tasks a chiropractor performs.

1. Examine patients

When a patient visits a chiropractor for the first time, the chiropractor will ask them a few questions.

For example, the chiropractor needs to know about any pre-existing conditions, injuries, and allergies the patient might have. They’ll chat with the patient to learn about their medical history and lifestyle. Any relevant information will be added to the patient’s file.

Chiropractors also give first-time patients a physical examination. This will include an examination of the spine and soft tissues.

Chiropractors use several types of diagnostic tests. X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans are commonly used to make sure the right therapy is given.

2. Provide therapy

Chiropractors can use different treatment methods to support their patients.

The type of therapy can vary depending on the patient’s health concerns. For example, the chiropractor can manually adjust the patient’s neck, back, pelvis, and spine. This is a hands-on treatment that can improve the patient’s alignment.

Chiropractors can also provide injury and sports rehabilitation services. They can show their patients how to do exercises at home to improve their quality of life.

Some chiropractors use massage, stretching, ice therapy, ultrasounds, and nerve stimulation as part of patients’ treatment plans.

3. Educate patients

Like any healthcare professional, chiropractors explain to patients what they’re doing. Patients need to understand what each treatment is, how it can help, and any potential side effects it may have.

Any therapy the chiropractor does in-office needs to be supported at home.

For example, if a patient is receiving treatment for a back injury, they’ll need to take care of the area. The chiropractor may teach them how to bend safely or recommend that they take a break from certain activities.

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Chiropractors can also offer general education to the public. They may share tips and information on social media or in pamphlets or blog posts.

4. Use supportive tools

Though chiropractors often use their hands to manipulate the body, they can also use supportive tools.

For example, when a patient visits a chiropractor, they’ll normally lie on an adjustable treatment table. The healthcare professional can use handheld massagers, foam rollers, and decompression straps as tools to help them treat the patient.

Depending on the injury, patients may need aids such as braces, crutches, or walking sticks.

Chiropractors may also recommend cold gels, ice packs, or heat packs to reduce symptoms.

5. Write referrals

Chiropractors can provide care to patients and help with a range of problems. However, a team approach is sometimes required.

Chiropractors work with other specialists. They can write referrals and talk to other healthcare providers.

For example, they may refer a patient to a physician, surgeon, dietician, or physical therapist. They may also order X-rays or other diagnostic tests.

When healthcare professionals work together, the patient can get all-around treatment.

In the U.S., visiting a chiropractor doesn’t require a referral. But a person who is seeing a chiropractor should mention this to their primary care doctor.

How to get a job as a chiropractor

Now that you know what a chiropractor does, it’s time to discover some career paths this profession could take.

Here's a step-by-step guide on how to start your career as a chiropractor.

1. Check the basics

Before you start your chiropractic studies, there are a few things you’ll need. First, you’ll need a high school diploma or equivalent. For those still studying, consider subjects such as biology, math, chemistry, and exercise science.

The minimum age to get into college or university is usually 17, but this can vary depending on your location. Some courses also have admissions requirements, such as minimum grade point average (GPA) scores.

To succeed in chiropractic education, you should be interested in spinal anatomy and manual treatments and curious about how the body moves.

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Chiropractors also need a range of soft skills, such as good communication, empathy, manual dexterity, and attention to detail.

2. Get a bachelor’s degree

You won’t be able to enroll in a chiropractic school immediately.

You’ll need to take undergraduate studies. Specifically, you’ll need to complete a bachelor’s degree, which takes around three years — or even longer if you only study part-time.

Look for degree programs that focus on health and science. Biology, chemistry, and the physical sciences are usually recommended. You can choose courses in anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, exercise physiology, nutrition, biochemistry, or biomechanics.

If you’re not sure which classes to take, you can speak to an on-campus career advisor. They’ll be able to help you choose the right subjects to support your chiropractic education.

Already have a bachelor’s degree in another field? Some chiropractic schools will consider applicants with other majors. However, you may need to complete prerequisite science courses.

Examples of majors that may be considered include psychology, marketing, sociology, nursing, and education.

3. Enroll in a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) program

Once you’ve completed your undergraduate education, you can enroll in a Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.) program.

You can expect this program to take at least four years to complete.

Your chiropractic degree will entail advanced training. As you progress through your doctoral degree program, you’ll gain both practical skills and diagnostic skills.

You’ll learn about the human body, including its anatomy and physiology. You’ll also learn how to assess and examine patients and handle confidential data.

The D.C. program will teach you how to create plans for pain management and how to use different tools and equipment to make treatment effective in the long term.

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Depending on your chiropractic school, you may also learn about nutrition, rehabilitation, supplements, and counseling as additional methodologies to support a patient’s recovery.

Some educational institutions teach students about marketing and promotions. This training can be beneficial for those planning to start their own businesses.

4. Get work experience

Gaining hands-on experience is an important part of any chiropractic program. As such, most chiropractic students must complete clinical training. This is usually done in the final year of study.

Some chiropractic schools have on-site clinics. In these settings, students can diagnose and treat patients under the supervision of licensed professionals. Alternatively, clinical placements may be with outside providers.

During clinical placements, students are expected to provide patients with the same care as fully qualified chiropractors. This is an opportunity to boost your skills and get accustomed to working with different types of patients.

You’ll also have the chance to meet other health professionals, which can help you build your network. In fact, someone you meet during your training could end up helping you get a job. Try these tips for growing your professional network.

5. Pass an exam

You’ll need to pass a licensing exam to become a licensed chiropractor. While you’ll need a license no matter what state you practice in, the exact requirements can vary depending on where you live.

The best-known exam is from the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE). This exam may be tied in with your chiropractic program or something you do once you’ve finished your training.

You’ll need to book a time for this exam and pay a fee. On the day of, there are strict instructions about what you can bring. For example, the only piece of jewelry you can wear is a wedding ring. You can also bring one car key, and you’ll need to have your lunch and drink packed in a clear bag. You’ll also need photo identification.

You won’t be allowed to leave the exam site until the end of the day. Make sure you get there at least 30 minutes before your time slot to complete the sign-in process.

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After the test, you can log in to the online portal to see your results. If you get a passing score, you’ll get your license. If your score is too low, you may be able to retake the exam. There’s no time limit — but, to be eligible for retakes, the NBCE requires that you remain a student enrolled in a chiropractic program. You can take it as many times as you need to pass.

There are also ongoing requirements if you want to keep your license. Ultimately, you’ll need to train and learn throughout your career.

6. Start work

The final step before getting a job is to pass a background check. This screening can be part of the licensing process or a requirement from a potential employer.

The background check verifies your details, work experience, and education. It also flags any misdemeanors or felonies on your record.

Becoming a chiropractor is a long road, but once you’ve finished these steps, you can start your career. Before you apply for a job, update your resume and put together a list of professional references.

You can browse chiropractor roles on our job board.

How much do chiropractors make?

In the U.S., the average salary for chiropractors varies. Your location, experience, and specialty can all impact your yearly pay.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary in the U.S. is $75,000. This comes to $36.06 per hour.

Those working in physician offices make an average of $79,810 per year, while those in chiropractic offices make $73,990 per year.

Here’s a quick comparison between locations: The highest-paying state is Connecticut, where the average chiropractor’s salary is $116,340 per year. Next is New Jersey at ​​$113,220, followed closely by Nevada at $112,420 per year.

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In Massachusetts, chiropractors make around $100,120 per year. And in New York, they can expect to make $97,380 per year.

In Iowa, the average is much less. Chiropractors there have an average annual salary of $60,540. If you’re in Montana, the wage is even lower at $53,070 per year.

Where to get a chiropractor job

Once you’re qualified and licensed, you can apply for a chiropractor position. And where do you start? Our job board, of course!

Start your search by browsing chiropractor jobs in your area. You can also look for chiropractic assistant positions.

When you sign up for a free account, you can set up job alerts and chat with others in our community discussions.

A job interview can be daunting if you’ve been out of the workforce for a while. To help you prepare, we’ve put together a list of common interview questions and answers.

You can also check out these cover letter tips.

Working as a chiropractor

Want to work as a chiropractor? These health professionals perform a range of tasks, from assessing patients to providing therapy and educating patients about at-home care.

Chiropractors use a range of tools to support their patients and may write referrals to other specialists.

Becoming a chiropractor is a long process. First, you’ll need to complete a bachelor’s degree, then attend a chiropractic school. During your studies, you’ll get work experience in a clinical setting.

Once you’ve finished your training, you’ll need to take an exam. If you pass it, you can apply for a license, which is a requirement for all practicing chiropractors.

Not sure if this is the right job for you? See who’s hiring in your area by visiting our job board.

We also have other useful articles and interview tips in our resource center.

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