A chiropractor, or doctor of chiropractic medicine, is a licensed medical professional who specializes in diagnosing and treating disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous system, especially in the spine. Chiropractors believe that many health problems can stem from the misalignment, or subluxation, of the vertebrae. The main aspect of treatment in chiropractic care is usually physical manipulation of joints and spine to bring them back into alignment. Chiropractors may also recommend exercises or offer health and nutritional counselling. Chiropractors do not do surgery or prescribe medication. Chiropractic medicine is sometimes referred to as a form of alternative medicine, though many chiropractors (and patients) do not agree with this designation.
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Chiropractors evaluate and treat their patients. When seeing a patient for the first time, a chiropractor will take his or her medical history, perform a physical exam, and order any necessary tests, such as X-rays or an MRI. He or she will then develop a treatment plan, which most often will include physical adjustments or manipulations of the musculoskeletal system, but may also include massage, exercises, or other forms of physical therapy. Sometimes they run tests for vitamin and mineral deficiencies and will recommend supplements to correct any identified imbalances.
Initially, the physical manipulation treatments may need to be done quite frequently (perhaps a few times per week). As the body starts to heal, it will need fewer adjustments. Part of the chiropractor's job is to assess the patient's progress and adjust his or her treatment schedule accordingly.
Some chiropractors are more open to using or recommending other forms of medicine or therapies than others. There are basically two schools of thought in modern chiropractic care -"straight" chiropractic and "mixer." "Straight" chiropractors believe that all illness or disease in the body stems from subluxations in the spine. "Mixer" chiropractors, who are the majority of chiropractors practicing today, see that as just one part of the overall picture. Obviously, these are the chiropractors that are more likely to recommend other forms of treatment either as a supplement to or even instead of chiropractic care. Some chiropractors even work directly with massage therapists or sports medicine specialists.
Chiropractors must enjoy working with and helping people, as it is a very hands-on medical profession. They need to be good listeners and observers to help them diagnose their patients. Good communication skills are also important so that they can effectively explain their patients' conditions and treatments to them.
The educational path to becoming a chiropractor is similar to becoming a doctor. The student must take undergraduate courses in science. While requirements to attend colleges of chiropractic medicine vary between schools and countries, many aspiring chiropractors earn a bachelor's degree before applying to chiropractic school. This may eventually become the universal requirement for admission. Currently, the minimum amount of undergraduate education required is 90 credit hours.
A Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree is a four-year graduate degree. There are actually more classroom and supervised clinical hours required to earn a DC than for a medical degree. Like medical school, the first two years of chiropractic school consist of mostly classroom learning and lab work in subjects such as biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, anatomy, physiology, and other science courses. In the second two years, students begin clinical work and learn to evaluate, diagnose, and treat patients. This is when they will learn to use diagnostic equipment as well, such as x-rays. Some chiropractic colleges follow a traditional school calendar with summers off, while others are in session all year long so that the program can be completed in a shorter amount of time.
Before being able to practice as a chiropractor, the student must pass national board exams. In the US, he or she will also need to pass their state's licensing exam.
Chiropractors can work independently in their own private practice or as a part of a larger group practice. Some may work in hospitals or larger clinics, and some go on to teach at chiropractic colleges. Approximately 44% of chiropractors in the US are self-employed. The demand for chiropractors is on the rise, so job security and opportunities look promising for those in the field. While chiropractic care is needed in all types of communities, there are often more chiropractors practicing closer to where there is a school of chiropractic medicine. This is true around the world. An enterprising new chiropractor may just need to move to a new area to have a wide base of patients with little competition.
As with any profession, salaries start lower and increase with time for chiropractors. Those living in wealthier areas are obviously able to charge more, and therefore earn more money. A chiropractor that is just starting out can expect to earn approximately $40,000 in the US. The mean salary in the US was $94,454 in 2009, and in 2011, the median was $129,119. Currently, salaries in Australia range from AU$47,626 - AU$97,945 on average. Pay in Great Britain is also comparable, where chiropractors start out at about £20,000 a year and can easily pull in £30,000 to £50,000 or more annually with experience.