Contemplating the chiropractic career
I’ve spoken with hundreds of students and recent graduates at chiropractic events, seminar breaks and private one-on-one consultations as a guest speaker. I’ve been to chiropractic colleges (23 at last count). What they have revealed through their questions, frustrations and disappointments is often tragic.
This article presents 10 suggestions for anyone in the midst of their education or contemplating the hard, narrow, difficult and rewarding path of a chiropractic career.
1. It’s a small business.
You want a practice, but you’ll be in a small business facing the same challenges as all small businesses: getting and keeping customers. And make no mistake, even though we call them patients, they’re customers. It’s called a practice, but it’s a small business.
If you’ve never run a small business before and haven’t negotiated leases, hired and trained employees, decoded a financial statement or made payroll, take some business classes. The perfunctory business class offered at chiropractic college is often too little too late.
Fall in love with the business side of chiropractic. Because if you can’t make a profit, you’ll ultimately either work for someone who can or change careers.
2. College is an obstacle course.
These days, a chiropractic education is largely a medical education that excludes pharmacology and surgery, with such topics being replaced with a greater emphasis on anatomy, physiology and adjusting techniques.
Most of what you need to know to become an effective doctor of chiropractic could be taught in two years, probably less. In fact, 100 years ago, that’s how long the typical chiropractic education lasted. In other words, today’s chiropractic education is about testing your mental capacity and resolve. Much of it will have little application in daily practice.
Worse, there seems to be a conspiracy to scare the bejesus out of students with malpractice issues, fears of hurting patients, overtreatment, board complaints and other dangers. This does far more harm than good. Relax. Chiropractic is remarkably safe, especially when compared with the alternatives.
3. Rethink stressing about grades.
Unless any scholarships you obtain are predicated on maintaining a specific grade point average, you might want to lighten up on your GPA. Keep your eye on the prize: graduating and getting a license to practice. Whether you get an A, B or C, it will make little difference in the end. Not a single patient will ask about your GPA. And the diploma awarded to the class valedictorian? It’s identical to the one bestowed upon the graduate at the bottom of the class.
The point? Your grades have little to do with your eventual success. If anything, there may be an inverse relationship since many introverts who are good test takers often flounder in practice. It’s almost a cliché that “A” students end up working as associates for “C” students.
4. Minimize your debt.
Emerging with $200,000 to $300,000 or more in student loan debt is a heavy burden.
Do whatever you can to avoid or reduce your debt, whether that means storing up cash in advance, working a job while you’re in school or both. You could even pause from time to time to work for a quarter before returning to your studies. There’s no shame in taking a year longer to graduate, especially if you can do so without incurring massive, choice-reducing, worry-producing, credit-robbing, soul-crushing student loan debt.
That said, a chiropractic education can produce an astonishing return on your investment.
5. Understand the metaphysics of healing.
Chiropractic exists as a unique, non-duplicative healing art because of the wisdom and tireless work of chiropractic pioneers who obtained licensure for the profession. Chiropractic is different from medicine. It has a different intent, different philosophy and different intervention. Not inferior, not superior. Different.
Yet, the foundational principles of the profession, if even taught, are often ridiculed or dismissed as irrelevant.
Not so fast. Whether on or, more likely, off campus, seek out individuals, groups or organizations that can explain the spiritual, metaphysical and philosophical underpinnings of chiropractic. That means reading some of BJ Palmer’s green books and listening to recordings of James Sigafoose, DC, and Reggie Gold, DC. Without this background, many graduates emerge lacking a clear identity, sabotaging their certainty and confidence.
6. Volunteer for outreach opportunities.
Many chiropractic colleges look for student volunteers willing to represent the school at community events, screenings, health fairs, elementary school presentations and similar opportunities. Always volunteer.
By participating at this level, you’ll acquire valuable success skills when it comes to fielding questions and making the case for chiropractic. This is the real-world education that will pay off handsomely in the years to come. Learning these skills now, when the risk is mostly emotional, will equip you with the essential callouses and scar tissue that will make practicing easier.
7. Enroll in a toastmasters group.
Even if you never intend to give a formal speech, learning how to present your ideas in front of others will help you think on your feet and make you a more confident and skilled communicator, a quality that often distinguishes successful DCs from those who struggle.
One of the most common tendencies among newer DCs is to make the relationship about them. What to say. What to do. What not to say. What not to do. A byproduct of effective public speaking is the realization that the talk isn’t about you — it’s about the audience. Same with your practice.
Remember, your enemy is the allopathic mindset of patients. This means you’re in the belief-changing business, which requires precise and confident communications.
8. Tour practices.
Keeping the end in mind (a successful practice), use vacations and holidays to visit as many practices as you can. Drinking in the variety and diversity of office layouts, policies and practice procedures will stimulate your creativity.
Show up humbly and nonjudgmentally and be as unobtrusive as possible. Buy lunch. Ask questions. Attempt to understand the values, priorities and principles on which each practice is based. Take pictures. Request samples.
9. Create a wish book.
Keep a notebook in which to keep track of your practice ideas. Use it to record your observations, photos, scripts, forms, logos and other details you acquire while doing your practice research. Use it to keep yourself inspired.
One of the biggest mistakes and sources of wasted energy is the compulsion to reinvent the wheel. Instead, steal shamelessly and amass a collection of best practices to which you can give your unique spin.
10. Cultivate a marketing mindset.
A common misconception is the notion that great hands and great results are all it takes to have a successful practice. Many believe that having to advertise or promote your practice is evidence of poor clinical skills. Nonsense. Even worse is the commonly repeated (and untrue) “build-it-and-they-will-come” mantra.
Far too many DCs wait until the last minute to contemplate how they are going to introduce their valuable services to strangers in their community. Doing so is critical, because you’ll quickly run out of friends and family.
At the very least, secure the domain name for your eventual practice. It’s a crucial piece of digital real estate that will form the hub of all your future on- and offline marketing efforts.
These 10 suggestions won’t make chiropractic college easier — in fact, they’ll probably have the opposite effect. But you’ll emerge stronger and better prepared for one of the most honest, valuable and soul-satisfying career choices you could ever imagine.
WILLIAM ESTEB is the creative director of Patient Media, a patient communication resource for the chiropractic profession. Review the tools, read the blog and subscribe to Monday Morning Motivation, his free weekly email.