Becoming a Chiropractor: What You Need to Know

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More people are seeking natural health treatment than ever before—a good sign for someone interested in pursuing a career in chiropractic.

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Chiropractors are doctors who treat, diagnose, and support patients with hands-on adjustments, particularly spinal manipulation. They believe in treating patients holistically—”not to chase pain, but to find the root cause of a patient’s issues,” explains Dr. Danielle Fishel, DC, a chiropractor in St. Louis.

Chiropractic is based on the philosophy that by adjusting the skeletal and muscular systems, chiropractors can enable the body to heal itself. The medical community and general public increasingly look to chiropractors to address back pain, headaches, neck pain, injuries, and a whole host of other conditions.

Chiropractors treat back pain, neck pain, headaches, pain due to injuries, and more.

Other details of the job depend on whether they offer other natural health services (such as acupuncture) or specialize (e.g. in pediatric chiropractic). In addition, chiropractors practice in a range of settings, from hospitals and integrative offices to solo practices and even house calls.

“When you become a chiropractor, there’s a lot of freedom there,” says Dr. Jerry Dreessen, DC, CCSP, a chiropractor clinic owner in Mountlake Terrace, Washington.

Research Where You’ll Want to Study and Practice

Earning a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) entails years of studying, training, and practicing—and most DCs say the effort is well worth the reward of helping patients relieve pain and promote well-being.

The steps to become a chiropractor depend on where you’re starting. In general, applicants to chiropractic school must have taken science and pre-med courses in college. Other possible requirements—such as a bachelor’s in science degree before admission—depend on individual schools, so you’ll need to do your homework upfront.

What Does a Chiropractor Do?

A chiropractor’s job description can vary, but all chiropractors share one common task: to promote their patients’ health and relieve pain by adjusting the spine and joints. Chiropractors see the body as an interconnected whole and believe adjustments to the musculoskeletal system can have powerful ripple effects.

“As chiropractors, we help patients beyond what their complaints may be,” explains Dr. Raffaela “Ela” Villella, DC, a chiropractor in Lakewood Ranch, Florida. “Once we help the nervous system to function better, so many things can open up for patients: feeling better, healing, sleeping better, and much more.”

Depending on their training and where they practice, chiropractors may also use instruments to alleviate pain, administer acupuncture, offer nutrition advice, and more.

What Is Chiropractor School Like?

What Kind of Education Do I Need?

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To set yourself up to get into chiropractic school, you’ll need to have some education under your belt. These must-take courses typically include biology, chemistry, and physics, though specifics vary among chiropractic programs.

Some schools require a Bachelor of Science degree before admission, while others call for a minimum number of college credits. Many chiropractic students earn their BS and then go straight to chiropractic school, though nontraditional educational paths are welcome, too.

Some schools offer a BS-DC program, either within one school or as a partnership between two. This accelerated path allows students to earn both degrees in less time, typically saving a year or even more of schooling.

To become a licensed chiropractor, you need to earn your DC from an accredited school.

How Important Is Accreditation?

You’ll need to earn a DC from an accredited school or program to become licensed. The Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) is the agency that evaluates and accredits programs that have met the agency’s educational standards. Accreditation doesn’t only inspire confidence in the high level of education chiropractors receive; it’s also necessary for students to receive federal financial aid.

What Will I Learn in Chiropractic College?

Chiropractic college typically takes four years and covers science and physiology, manipulation techniques, diagnostic imaging, case management, and more.

“You learn the microscopic side as deep as you can all the way up to the human body and how that all integrates,” Dreessen, owner of Seattle-area Back to Action Chiropractic, says. “When someone comes in for care on the clinical side, you’re not just looking at a spot. You’re looking at the whole body and you try to find the cause of the problem, not just treat the symptoms.”

  • At the start of your chiropractic education, you’ll form a solid foundation in the sciences. Your classes will include:
  • Anatomy, including dissection of cadavers
  • Sciences, which can cover biochemistry, genetics, metabolism, physics, and more
  • Pathology
  • Chiropractic history, philosophy, and theory
  • In the middle of your program, you’ll shift focus to clinical science. In these classes you’ll learn how to diagnose, treat, and manage different injuries and conditions.
  • In the final part of your education, you’ll put everything you’ve learned into practice as you observe, and then support, chiropractors in a clinic.

Finding a Chiropractic Mentor

How Long Does it Take?

You can take several paths to your DC. The most common route is to first earn a BS, apply for chiropractic school, and earn your DC. This route typically takes eight years, though many students take a break or work in another career between degrees.

Some schools offer a BS-DC program, which allows you to earn both degrees in six or seven years. This accelerated path is even more rigorous than pursuing the degrees separately.

Because chiropractic requires so much hands-on training and practice, there are no accredited online chiropractic programs.

What Can I Expect if I Return to Chiropractor School?

A DC program is a doctorate, so you should expect school to be demanding. It’s not uncommon for students to take a half-dozen classes or more at once.

Students who are focused and determined can thrive in chiropractic school. Successful students draw on experience with prioritization and balance—for example, second-career students who have juggled work, family life, education, and other commitments.

Villella says her fellow chiropractic students came from a wide variety of backgrounds. Some were straight out of an undergraduate program, some were transitioning from another healthcare career, some had family members who were chiropractors, and others were pivoting from an unrelated field.

Everyone was alike in one way, Villella says: “You have to have empathy and want to help patients’ bodies work better.”

Do I Need to be Licensed?

In a word: Yes. To practice chiropractic in the U.S., you must first be licensed by the state in which you practice. Licensing requirements vary among states, but most have a few things in common. They require chiropractors to have earned a DC and passed the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) exams and any state-specific exams. In some cases, chiropractors also need to be fingerprinted and undergo a background check.

Licenses must be renewed periodically, and again specifics vary among states. You may need to renew your license as often as every year or as infrequently as every three years.

How Much Can I Earn as a Chiropractor?

By now you’re probably wondering how much chiropractors earn. Salaries depend on many factors, including:

  • The state or city in which you practice
  • The setting where you practice (for example, a multidisciplinary office versus a solo practice)
  • The services you offer
  • Any advanced certifications you’ve earned
  • How long you’ve been practicing

A chiropractor’s salary doesn’t tell the whole story, however. That number doesn’t include insurance, rent, equipment, advertising, or other expenses that are a part of being a chiropractor. All these expenses vary by geography, too.

Is a Job as a Chiropractor Right for Me?

Chiropractors are diverse: They come from different backgrounds, educational experiences, family systems, and other identities. That’s a wonderful thing, since differences within the field can spark new ideas and growth.

Still, successful chiropractors often have traits in common.

“As a chiropractor, you have to think outside the box,” Fishel says. Patients often come to chiropractic after trying other healthcare approaches—unsuccessfully. Chiropractic’s whole-person approach to health can help practitioners see clues that others might not notice.

Chiropractors also spend a lot of time on their feet and working on patients’ bodies. The career requires physical stamina as well as a commitment to self-care.

Most of all, you’ll need dedication. It takes persistence and focus to not only get through chiropractic school but also to care for hard-to-treat ailments and start your own business.

Stay Informed

Now that you’ve learned about how to become a chiropractor, you probably want to stay up to date on the field. Check out these resources to continue to learn about chiropractic.


catherine gregory

Written and reported by:
Catherine Ryan Gregory
Contributing Writer

raffaela villella

With professional insight from:
Raffaela “Ela” Villella, DC
Owner, House Call Chiropractic

Danielle Fishel, DC
Owner, Fishel Chiropractic

Jerry Dreessen, DC, CCSP
Owner, Back to Action Chiropractic