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How to Become a Chiropractor: Everything You Need to Know

By Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman

Gabriel Jimenez-Ekman is a content editor and writer at Scholarships360. He has managed communications and written content for a diverse array of organizations, including a farmer’s market, a concert venue, a student farm, an environmental NGO, and a PR agency. Gabriel graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in sociology.

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Edited by Maria Geiger

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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Updated: March 19th, 2024
How to Become a Chiropractor: Everything You Need to Know

Chiropractic is an important field of alternative health that helps resolve people’s issues with bones, nerves, muscles, ligaments, and tendons. If you’re interested in becoming a chiropractor though, you’ll have to go through some schooling. Chiropractor schooling programs will teach you how to work with patients to resolve their pain, be it chronic inflammation or a reaction to a traumatic event such as a sports injury.

What is a chiropractor?

Chiropractors practice a field of alternative medicine that does not utilize drugs or surgery. This differs from many disciplines of other Western medicine. However, many chiropractic patients also see other doctors who may prescribe these Western methods.

They typically focus on neuro-musculo-skeletal issues and are perhaps most commonly known for treating back pain. Much of the chiropractic discipline is centered around the spine and its connections to neurological function. By focusing on the spinal region, chiropractors hope to prevent or lessen issues that stem from spinal tension or misalignment. These effects can be as far-reaching as respiration or digestion.

Schooling requirements to become a chiropractor

Licensed chiropractors must hold a Doctor of Chiropractic, or D.C. D.C. programs take four years to complete, and most programs require that incoming students hold at least three years of undergraduate education. Many even require a bachelor’s.

The Association of Chiropractic Colleges offers a list of typical academic requirements for students looking to enter a D.C. program. These requirements are:

  • Completed the equivalent of three academic years of undergraduate study (90 semester hours) at an institution(s) accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or an equivalent foreign agency with a GPA for these 90 hours of not less than 3.0 on a 4.0 scale.
  • The 90 hours will include a minimum of 24 semester hours in life and physical science courses. These science courses will provide an adequate background for success in the DCP, and at least half of these courses will have a substantive laboratory component.
  • The student’s undergraduate preparation also includes a well-rounded general education program in the humanities and social sciences, and other coursework deemed relevant by the DCP for students to successfully complete the DCP curriculum.

As you can see, the D.C. program requirements share some similarities with those of a med school program. However, it’s important to note that they are looking for students who have also taken social science and humanities courses. Because chiropractic relies heavily on tradition, they are looking for students with a unique blend of hard science and historical knowledge. 

What you’ll learn in school

According to the Association of Chiropractic Colleges, D.C. programs touch on the following subjects: 

  • Anatomy
  • Biochemistry
  • Physiology
  • Microbiology
  • Pathology
  • Public health
  • Physical, clinical and laboratory diagnosis
  • Gynecology & obstetrics
  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics
  • Dermatology
  • Otolaryngology
  • Diagnostic imaging procedures
  • Psychology
  • Nutrition/dietetics
  • Biomechanics
  • Orthopedics
  • Neurology
  • First aid and emergency procedures
  • Spinal analysis
  • Principles and practice of chiropractic
  • Clinical decision making
  • Adjustive techniques
  • Research methods and procedures
  • Professional practice ethics

Wow – that’s a lot to fit into four years! But as a chiropractor, you will use all of these skills on a regular basis. Since the premise of the discipline is the interconnectedness of the body, it’s key to have a good overall understanding of how the body’s systems are linked. Public health classes will help you frame your patients’ issues within the whole of society, and courses like clinical decision making will help you work through issues with your patients and keep them on the same page.

As a chiropractor, you’ll learn both how to recognize problems in each part of the body, and how to address them through adjustments to the spine. As a result, you’ll gain a thorough overall understanding of the body. You’ll be tasked with simultaneously learning very specialized knowledge about the spine and more general knowledge about every system in the body.

Job outlook for chiropractors

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that the 2022 median pay for chiropractors was $73,380 per year. They also found the job prospects to grow by 9%, which was much faster than the average profession. So, if you complete your chiropractor schooling, there is a good chance that you will land a job. However, you should weigh that median pay against the cost of four years of additional schooling after your master’s. 

If you weigh this cost of attendance against your median salary, you can see that you will be in a tight financial situation for at least a couple years after graduation. Tuition costs for chiropractor school ranges from $40,000 to $120,000. That amount does not include undergraduate degree costs beforehand. 

Many chiropractors are self-employed and have to take out additional loans to set up their business initially. So, if you are planning on becoming a chiropractor, make sure to crunch the numbers before taking out loans to ensure you’ll be able to pay them back and avoid going into default. That being said, chiropractic is a profitable field for many and if you use smart financial planning, it is certainly a feasible profession.

Related: How much student debt is too much?

Comparison to massage therapists

A few key differences set chiropractors apart from massage therapists. The first is the educational requirement. Massage therapists undergo less intensive educational programs to practice massage. Furthermore, most massage therapy programs only require a high school diploma. So, if you are interested in chiropractic, but an undergraduate education plus four years of a D.C. program are not financially feasible, you may want to look into massage therapy.

Another key difference is the approach of the discipline. While massage therapists typically only focus on muscle and soft tissue, chiropractors perform spine adjustments. These procedures typically come with more risk, which is part of the reason why the barriers to entry are higher.

Related: Physical therapy scholarships

Next steps

If you are considering becoming a chiropractor, make sure to look into your college schedule to make sure you are taking the right classes to qualify. Once you know that you are qualified for chiropractic school, make sure to look into your financial situation. Find out about typical chiropractor salaries in the region you are considering living in, and weigh them against the amount of debt you’d have to take out to complete your C.D. Finally, if this is not a financial option for you, you can look into alternative programs such as massage therapist programs or med school. Good luck!

Related: 20 top highest paying careers to consider

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Frequently asked questions about chiropractic schooling

How does chiropractic vary from other medicine?

Chiropractic is a discipline that varies from mainstream medicinal practice in a few key ways. Its focus on the spine makes it unique in that it uses the same general framework to address most problems with the body. Conversely, most Western medicine will send you to different highly specialized doctors to deal with any individual problem.

Some contention exists between Western medicine and chiropractic, and some proponents of Western medicine view chiropractic as an illegitimate practice. Others may say that it attempts to address problems that would be better suited for specialized doctors. Conversely, many proponents of chiropractic argue that Western medicine overprescribes drugs and surgery to its patients. Oftentimes, the patients of chiropractors are more inclined towards natural remedies for their problems.

What is chiropractic school like?

Chiropractic school is an intensive program that manages to fit a thorough overall view of the body and a highly specialized training in neuro-musculo-skeletal issues into four years. You’ll undergo a rigorous and interdisciplinary training that sets you up to be a knowledgeable and confident chiropractor.

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