Chiropractic Degree and Career Guide
What Degree Do I Need to Become a Chiropractor?
There’s more than one path to earning a degree in this rewarding career.
To become a chiropractor, you’ll need a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree from an accredited program, plus a state license that will allow you to practice. Most chiropractors study chiropractic after earning a Bachelor of Science (BS), though some pursue a combined BS/DC degree.
From there, you’ll be able to diagnose and treat health problems and promote overall wellbeing by supporting the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. By adjusting how the skeleton, muscles, and nervous system work together, chiropractors help relieve back pain, headaches, whiplash, and even conditions like reflux and constipation.
Before Chiropractic College: What Prerequisites Do I Need?
A chiropractic degree is a doctorate—on par with a MD or PhD. Its rigorous academic pace requires students to have earned a BS—or be following a pre-chiropractic educational track. Some schools also offer a joint BS/DC degree.
Most chiropractic schools base admission on the kind of degree you have. After all, a wide range of experiences and backgrounds can help prepare someone to be an excellent chiropractor. That said, an undergraduate degree in kinesiology, biology, exercise science, and other science-heavy programs can set you up to succeed in chiropractic.
Most chiropractic schools require a BS in a science-related subject as a prerequisite.
Chiropractic schools require incoming students to have taken and passed a handful of prerequisites. These prerequisites make sure that all chiropractic students start from the same foundation. Some schools also require a minimum grade point average (GPA).
Most DC programs look for both lecture and laboratory coursework in the physical and life sciences. You’ll likely need to have taken:
Other coursework is recommended, but not always required. These can include biochemistry, physiology, and anatomy.
Wondering what you can do if you want to go to chiropractic school? If you’re earning your bachelor’s degree, you can plan your remaining time in school so that you take any prerequisites you’re missing.
Many DC students don’t come straight from a bachelor’s program. These students may be missing some required courses, so they take them “a la carte,” or one at a time, to prepare for admission to a chiropractic program. Taking these courses at a community college or online can help save money.
How Long Does it Take?
Earning a DC typically takes four years, though in some cases coursework can be completed in as little as three. The American Chiropractic Association mandates that DC programs include at least 4,200 hours—the same as medical school.
Your Paths to Becoming a Chiropractor
Some chiropractic programs allow students to pursue a BS and DC simultaneously. These BS/DC programs generally take seven years to complete. That means the joint program can shave off a year of schooling, on average. For students who know they want to become a chiropractor from the outset, this track can save both money and time.
People who realize they want to become a chiropractor after they’ve earned their undergraduate degree shouldn’t think of themselves as “behind,” though.
“There’s not one path or one type of person who chooses this route,” explains Raffaela “Ela” Villella, DC, a chiropractor in Lakewood Ranch, Florida. “Some people know right away they want to be a chiropractor, and others already have a different career but want to go back to school.”
What Will I Study in Chiropractic College?
If you’re wondering what you’ll learn in chiropractic college, the answer varies from school to school—but you can count on studying a handful of subjects consistent across DC programs:
These core science courses include lecture and lab work and ground students in the knowledge they need to safely begin practicing adjustments.
The clinical sciences component of a DC curriculum teaches diagnosis, treatment, and care management. These skills are critical to practicing chiropractic and running a successful business.
In addition, chiropractic curriculum includes “real-world” education in a clinical practice. Students typically start out observing chiropractors, then assisting chiropractors, and eventually taking on more responsibility with patients. This education helps make the transition from textbooks and classrooms to real people with real symptoms.
Chiropractic college includes a combination of lecture and lab work, followed by a fair amount of clinical practice.
Some chiropractic programs allow specialization. If you already know what type of chiropractic you want to practice, look for a school that offers a specialized track—for sports medicine chiropractic, for example.
Chiropractic school is comprehensive—and it’s hard work. The effort is well worth the confidence future patients will feel, though. “I wouldn’t want to go to a medical doctor who doesn’t have a solid medical background. The same goes for a chiropractor, which is why you need to go to school,” Villella says. “All the education helps you take care of your patients the best you can.”
What About Clinical Hours?
Hands-on learning is a vital part of studying chiropractic. That’s why DC programs typically include a one-year internship requirement in addition to studying in the classroom.
Internships offer a way to put what you’ve learned in class into practice in real-world scenarios. Interns practice in a clinic or office under the supervision of licensed providers. Experienced chiropractors act as mentors, guiding interns as they learn on the job.
Internships also teach the “intangibles” a chiropractor needs for a successful career. You’ll learn by doing, mastering things like communication with patients, making referrals to other providers, and billing insurance.
Is Accreditation Important?
The Council on Chiropractic Education is the accrediting agency for schools that offer DC. The CCE is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, which means the accrediting agency meets federal standards. Schools must demonstrate excellence in teaching, research, ethics, lab facilities, faculty, and more.
Accreditation is more than just a stamp of approval. A school must be accredited to receive federal funding and research grants. What’s more, only students attending accredited schools are eligible for federal student loans.
Finally, accreditation matters because you can’t get licensed without a DC from an accredited chiropractic school, in addition to passing scores on the national chiropractic exam and other qualifications.
Can I Take Classes Online?
Typically, DC programs aren’t offered online. Much of the coursework is hands-on in labs or clinics, which doesn’t easily translate to virtual teaching.
That said, some chiropractic programs have begun offering limited instruction virtually through recorded lessons, live 1:1 sessions, feedback and critique of recorded practice, and streamed role plays to resemble a client meeting.
Do Chiropractors Need Continuing Education Credits?
Yes—all chiropractors need to take continuing education (CE) courses to maintain licensure. States have different requirements, so you’ll need to hunt down specifics for the state in which you practice.
“Continuing education makes sure we know what’s new, since science is always changing as we learn more about the body,” Villella says.
In addition, some states require that chiropractors study specific topics within those CE hours. These can include anatomy, record keeping, diagnostic imaging, and cultural competency.
Generally, requirements leave plenty of room to explore what most interests you, Villella says. “You can decide which classes to take based on your personality or passions.”
How Much Can I Earn?
Several factors can influence how much a chiropractor earns:
Licensing and Certification
Graduating with a DC is a crucial step toward becoming a chiropractor, but you also must become licensed in the state in which you will practice.
The process of getting licensed varies by state. Generally, this includes:
You’ll need to research requirements particular to the place where you’ll practice.
Is the Chiropractic Field Right for Me?
If you’re reading this article about the education required to become a chiropractor, you’re almost certainly interested in the field. Just like any other health provider or “helper” career, chiropractic is more effective when it includes diversity of background, experience, and identity.
Certain personality traits help chiropractors thrive, too. Curiosity, determination, and a love of problem-solving help chiropractors get to the root of a patient’s problem.
“You have to really see the person in front of you and understand what it is they’re saying—and not saying,” says Raffaela “Ela” Villella, DC. Thinking outside the box helps chiropractors bring relief to patients who may not have had success with other treatments.
Empathy and a desire to help others is critical. “Someone who is compassionate and caring makes a good chiropractor,” Fishel explains. “I want my patients to feel welcome and comfortable from the moment they walk in the door.”
Chiropractors who are curious, determined, and empathetic have a good chance of thriving in the career.
Chiropractors can come from any sort of background. Some follow a family line of chiropractors. Others have experience in other healthcare fields, such as a physician’s assistant, physical therapist, or nurse. Some enter chiropractic school straight from their undergraduate work, while others change careers or go back to school after a break.
The bottom line: Earning a DC is a challenge—a worthwhile one for someone dedicated to helping others, Fishel says. “Chiropractic school is hard. But if you’re determined, you can create a wave of wellness in your community.”