The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 9% increase in the number of chiropractic professionals over the next decade. While this sounds promising for individuals who wish to enter this field, some researchers are concerned about the opposite. They want to know what’s behind the number of practitioners choosing to leave this profession.
Chiropractic attrition rates
According to a study published in December 2023 in the Journal of Chiropractic Humanities, research suggests that up to half of all new doctors of chiropractic may leave the profession within five years of earning their DC degree. Additionally, while some studies put chiropractic attrition rates at 4.5%, others report this number to be as high as 27.8%, meaning that more than one in four don’t use their education and skills to help patients resolve their musculoskeletal issues on a long-term basis.
This can create a treatment gap for a high number of people since an article published in The Lancet Rheumatology on Oct. 23, 2023, indicates roughly 494 million people have some type of musculoskeletal disorder. This represents a 123.4% increase in this type of disorder since 1990.
What’s behind DCs leaving?
Authors of the December 2023 study stress that discovering the factors behind DCs leaving this profession is important for creating a workforce that mediates this effect. Yet, research is still somewhat unclear as to what these factors are.
Some of the options they cited include retirement, death, disability and pursuing a position in another field. Another reason they indicated was burnout, though information provided at the World Federation of Chiropractic and the Association of Chiropractic Colleges Global Education Conference in November 2022 indicates burnout in this profession tends to be low post-COVID-19.
Bullying during undergraduate study
Other research shines a light on factors that may make chiropractic a difficult profession to pursue and stay in long-term. In a 2022 systematic review published in the International Journal of Educational Research Open, authors report that bullying is prevalent within undergraduate manual therapy education programs.
In fairness, this type of behavior isn’t confined to chiropractic students. Data provided by the University of San Francisco states one in four college students self-identify as bullying victims, and 60% have witnessed bullying behavior. This can impact individuals in many ways, one of which is attrition.
Authors of the 2022 review explained that the chiropractic students who were bullied said this had a significant impact on their well-being and educational achievement, also contributing to higher attrition rates in some populations — particularly for minority students and those with disabilities taking courses within certain regions.
Improving chiropractic attrition rates
Reducing the desire to leave the chiropractic profession can take several approaches depending on the factors contributing to the attrition.
Obviously, natural mechanisms of attrition such as retirement can’t be avoided forever, and disability is best handled through prevention of injury, practicing good body mechanics while working, and the maintenance of insurance to compensate the DC for times they become unable to work. Burnout, the prevalence of which researchers differ over, can also be addressed through the teaching of good self-care practices and the promotion of a healthy work-life balance. If bullying during undergrad study is an issue, finding ways to stop this behavior can make it easier for students to pursue and stay in this field.
Final thoughts on being a DC
It can also be beneficial to think about the best aspects of being a DC. This career path offers perks that can’t be replicated in most other professions, including the potential for a very comfortable income; and via continuing education and certifications, a DC can develop a specialized patient-care approach about which they can become passionate.
Based on a survey of 369 members in this profession, the best aspects of being a DC include:
- Helping patients reduce their pain, move better or build their strength, flexibility or power;
- Being trained to diagnose patients, as well as being able to offer a differential diagnosis;
- Having the ability to “transform people’s quality of life” and help them feel better naturally;
- Working independently, either individually or in partnership with other practitioners;
- Enjoying daily communication with patients, working with them as people versus just as bodies.
Keeping these positive aspects of a chiropractic career in mind may help some practitioners stay in the field longer, even potentially increasing their career satisfaction levels.