The first female president of the ACA talks chiropractic goals and the future of the field
THIS PAST FEBRUARY the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) elected me its first female president. Many will see this as an important milestone in ACA’s history. For me, this election is most important not in its quality of being a “first” but for the fact that it is part of a larger movement for increased diversity in the chiropractic field.
An all-female-led executive team
In addition to my leadership as president, the ACA will benefit from the expertise and experience of Dr. Kathy Boulet, recently elected as vice president, and Karen Silberman, who continues in her role as executive vice president.
We are proud to be part of an all-female-led executive team, and we hope to set an example for other female practitioners and students, especially those aspiring to be in industry leadership roles. Together with our board, we hope to lead the ACA and guide the chiropractic field as a whole toward a more diverse, equitable and inclusive future.
This is no small task, and it will take more than my one-year term as president to achieve this goal. After my tenure as president, the work I’m leading today will necessarily continue so that the organization can continue to grow. I want to acknowledge, however, what a unique time this is for the chiropractic profession. A happy confluence of election schedules, shifting demographics and the hard work of female chiropractic practitioners has resulted in more female-led chiropractic organizations than ever before in our field’s history.
At present, women lead the ChiroCongress, the International Chiropractic Association, the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards and the American Black Chiropractic Association. We believe this presents some interesting opportunities for increased coordination between the organizations, and as a group we are currently discussing how improved communication and coordination could transform how chiropractic is perceived within the broader health care system.
Strategic goals to drive broader awareness of chiropractic care benefits
My work as president to coordinate with other organizations aligns with the ACA’s 2020-24 strategic plan and its mission to inspire and empower our members to elevate the health and well-being of their communities.
As an organization, we are embracing a collaborative, inclusive approach, both between our members and in partnership with other organizations, so that we can move our entire profession forward. To that end, the ACA’s strategic plan includes the following goals:
- Advance professional parity: At present, Medicare coverage for chiropractic care does not cover the full range of services that practitioners offer and are educated to provide. In April 2021, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York introduced the Chiropractic Medicare Coverage Modernization Act (H.R. 2654), which would enable patients to access care from their chiropractor for all Medicare-covered benefits allowable under the practitioner’s state license. Currently, passing H.R. 2654 is our top legislative priority at ACA.
- Implement initiatives to increase partnership with the broader health care system: To better position chiropractic physicians to deliver the patient-centered, evidence-informed care that our patients need, we are embarking on several initiatives and advocacy efforts. One part of this is serving as an educational resource and advocate via a new site, Hands Down Better, that provides information on a range of health topics, and connects the public with ACA doctor-members. Another important aspect of our work includes developing partnerships with key industry stakeholders to create business and clinical learning opportunities about best practices, ethics, professionalism and relevant issues, such as how patient-centered chiropractic care can help address the opioid abuse epidemic.
We believe that passage of H.R. 2654 will have a significant impact on the opioid abuse crisis ravaging the nation, which is due in large part to a drug-reliant approach to pain management. By utilizing other pain management techniques, such as manual manipulation of the spine and the extremities, and leveraging chiropractic physicians at the top of their license, chiropractic care can help divert patients away from opioid treatment plans and assist those recovering from opioid dependence.
In recent years, chiropractic care has grown in recognition as an effective means of combating the opioid abuse epidemic. The modernization of chiropractic coverage within Medicare will expand treatment options for patients who might otherwise have to pay out of pocket for services not previously covered. This will also reduce care fragmentation, decrease costs, and increase access for some of our most vulnerable patients.
Fostering growth through mentorship and DEI
Mentorship and inclusion have long been part of my work at the ACA and in the chiropractic field. Prior to my election as ACA president, I had the privilege of helping establish NextGen (formerly known as the Millennial Think Tank), a program designed to provide support, professional development opportunities and mentorship to early-career practitioners with less than five years of experience.
Since the program’s founding in 2016, I served as mentor to junior professionals, many of them young women seeking guidance and support as they built their careers in a predominantly white male field. Following my election, I stepped aside in this role to allow a new generation of practitioners to assume the role of mentor and help others, particularly those underrepresented in chiropractic.
Time and time again, we have seen the positive effect that increased diversity within chiropractic has on patients and students from various backgrounds. For patients, having a provider of their same gender, race or ethnicity can make them feel more comfortable and increase the likelihood of receiving patient-centered, culturally competent care.
Given increasing accounts of women feeling unheard, disregarded or dismissed by male providers, it is all the more important that we increase gender diversity in the field and ensure women receive the care they need. Northwestern Health Sciences University reports that for the last two years, 51% of its chiropractic students have been female. While this represents significant progress in the field, there remains more to be done.
In 2018, the ACA Commission on Diversity established a road map for the ACA to increase diversity within chiropractic and improve the care provided to underserved and intersectional populations. To further this effort, my team and I are calling on primary care practitioners, hospitals and community clinics alike to form community-driven complementary and integrative health (CIH) programs, better serve diverse communities, increase cultural competence, elevate professionals of color and improve accessibility of chiropractic care. In my term as president of ACA, fostering diversity and inclusion within the organization and the profession is a high priority.
My hope is that by exemplifying the inclusiveness and forward-thinking our industry needs, I can inspire other women and practitioners from other underrepresented groups to envision themselves as leaders. Electing women and people of color to leadership positions is an important step, but it is just one part of increasing diversity and inclusion in this sector and ushering in positive change in our health care system. I look forward to working with the ACA and other chiropractic organizations to facilitate that change.
The future of chiropractic care
On the heels of a famously unpredictable year, predicting the future in any field feels a little like folly. In place of that, I want to encourage my fellow practitioners to focus on what is possible and on the work we can do today to achieve those long-term goals.
Along with the leadership team at ACA, I will be moving the organization toward fulfilling its strategic goals in the next year. Beyond that, ACA and the industry as a whole must continue to focus on policies and initiatives that expand access to and utilization of chiropractic care services: passage of H.R. 2654, increased DEI efforts, creating more community-focused CIH programs, and working together for the common good. This will go a long way toward ensuring that one day everyone will have access to the patient-centered care they need.
MICHELE MAIERS, DC, MPH, PhD, has focused her career on bridging research and public health policy, empowering clinicians, patients and policymakers to make better decisions about conservative and integrative health care. She does so as ACA president and executive director of research and innovation at Northwestern Health Sciences University. To learn more, go to acatoday.org/SP-MicheleMaiers.