I’ve had a number of requests from high school and college students who are considering chiropractic as a career to talk about how I got into the field and how I practice.
I love to encourage good people to enter the profession. This should answer many of your general questions.
The thing I like most about chiropractic is being able to help people become healthier. It’s gratifying to have someone come in to the office in pain and really grumpy, and know I have the skills to send them out the door healthier. The work is a moving meditation. People do appreciate the work, even though they may be sore for awhile after the treatment. What is people’s mood when they come in? It’s often bad. They’re hurting, and not able to do the things they find fun. Does this affect my mood? Not really. My office is the one GOOD place to complain! I can do something about it.
This leads into another question I’m often asked. I did consider becoming a medical doctor; in fact I had a friend who very much wanted me in his new family practice program at the Southern Illinois University med school. My problem with the way medicine is practiced is that there isn’t much you can do for someone other than prescribe a pill or remove something. Beyond that, it’s just counseling changes in diet or lifestyle, and I can do that with more freedom as a Doctor of Chiropractic. Plus I have a whole range of physical things I can do to enhance health and free the body to do its own healing.
My least favorite part of the job is the paperwork, dealing with insurance companies and attorneys and trying to get paid. Even that isn’t so bad with the right attitude- it’s a challenge.
My practice is scheduled so I can see up to eight people per hour, though I schedule a full hour for the first visit. On a very busy day I might see 60 people, more average might be 35-45. I find that this is enough time to do a thorough adjustment without feeling rushed- and the time allotted is only an average. If someone needs questions answered, or something special done, I make the time. We mostly stay right on time so as to respect the time of my patients, but they’re understanding about emergencies. They know they’ll get the same consideration when they need it.
I went to Life Chiropractic College- West in San Leandro, CA. At the time I went, the teaching staff was wonderful, and classes were quite small, not over 25, so I had a great experience. As far as the workload, like any med school it is FAR more intense than undergraduate study. Between classes, which are all required (with attendance 90% or better), labs, practice, and study, your time is fully committed. To do it right, you don’t have time to maintain relationships or do anything else resembling a normal life. If you have a truly committed, supportive and forgiving partner, great- otherwise plan to put life on hold for four years.
In a metro area, chiropractors sometimes specialize in a particular area of interest. I practice in a little town, so my practice runs the gamut from newborns to athletes to older folks. I have quite a bit of specialized postgraduate training- that’s where you learn the latest good stuff- so I have options for whatever problems present themselves. I have an individual practice, though I share a waiting room with an acupuncturist. As far as I know there are few opportunities to practice in a hospital, and I wouldn’t be interested if there were. Some chiropractors associate in multi-doctor practices, and there’s some attraction in having a larger shared staff to deal with administration. I prefer to keep my life simple, just me in the office, even if that means I have to do everything from seeing patients to paying bills to maintaining the computers to cleaning toilets.
I would encourage you to get in contact with as many of the chiropractors in your area as you can, and volunteer to work in a well-run office, as I did in the San Francisco Bay Area. You will learn how to do chiropractic when you’re in school, but you will get pitifully little training in how to run a chiropractic business. If you have the opportunity to see how it’s done by several different docs, by all means take advantage of it.
Selfishly, for the profession and your patients, I would encourage you to honestly evaluate your talent in work with the body. Give some massages, and see how people react to your touch. See whether you enjoy it. Massage is not the same as chiropractic, but it requires a similar base skill- the ability to see into the body with your hands. If you have that talent, and feel you’re called to the profession as a service (not just a job)- welcome.