How To Survive Chiropractic College
(A prospective chiropractor requested some good advice for chiropractic students. Here’s my response.)
While I’ve never attended chiropractic college myself (other than as a guest speaker), I have spoken with countless students and recent graduates. I’ve based my suggestions below on their observations while adding my own spin.
Keep in mind that the various chiropractic colleges have aligned themselves with one of two factions in the profession. Some have chosen more of a medical orientation, while others are pursuing a more classical, vitalistic bent. Granted, they all must provide an education dictated by accreditation agencies, but the experience that you have and the worldview you acquire in school will be significantly affected by your choice of chiropractic college.
These are privately owned, for-profit businesses. With little endowment and heavily dependent on student tuition, they work hard to avoid the “trade school” label. Many don’t see themselves as having an obligation for your practice’s success but rather equipping you with the skills to get a license.
Here are 10 tips I would share with anyone contemplating the hard, narrow, difficult (and rewarding) path of pursuing chiropractic as a career. Please don’t let the difficulty dissuade you!
1. Chiropractic college is partly an obstacle course. These days, a chiropractic education is largely a medical education that excludes pharmacology and surgery, replacing them with a greater emphasis on anatomy, physiology and adjusting techniques. This is mostly to satisfy the licensing boards. Most of what you need to know to become an effective chiropractor could be taught in two years or fewer. In fact, 100 years ago, that’s about how long the typical chiropractic education lasted. In other words, today’s chiropractic education is about testing your mental capacity and resolve. Most of what you learn won’t have any daily applications in actual practice.
2. Don’t get over invested in your GPA. Unless any scholarships you obtain are predicated on maintaining a specific grade point average, be a bit more relaxed about whether you get an A or a B, or a B or a C. Keep your eye on the prize: graduating and getting a license. Not a single patient will ask about your GPA. The diploma awarded to the class valedictorian looks identical to the one awarded to the graduate who passed by the skin of his teeth. The point: Your grades have very 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. In fact it's almost a cliche that "A" students end up working as associates for "C" students.
3. Minimize your debt. Emerging with $200,000 to $300,000 or more in student loan debt will be a crushing burden, making it difficult to soar. Do whatever you can to avoid student loans, whether that means storing up cash in advance, working a job while you’re in school or both. You could even pause every three quarters and 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 student loan debt.
4. Seek out sources of chiropractic philosophy. Whether on- or, more likely, off-campus, seek out individuals, groups or organizations that will supply you with the spiritual, metaphysical and philosophical underpinnings of chiropractic. That means reading some of B. J. Palmer’s green books, listening to James Sigafoose, listening to Reggie Gold and getting a bigger picture than the physical medicine knowledge you’ll acquire in college. Without this background, most graduates emerge as confused, over-educated massage therapists who lack the necessary identity for certainty, confidence and clarity.
5. Volunteer for outreach opportunities. Many chiropractic colleges are looking for students interested in representing the school at various community events, such as screenings, health fairs and similar occasions. Participate at this level, and you’ll acquire valuable success skills when it comes to fielding questions, persuading strangers and making the case for chiropractic. This is the real education you seek! Strengthening this muscle while still in school will benefit you greatly in your practice.
6. 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 become a more confident and skilled communicator. If there is one thing that distinguishes successful chiropractors, it’s their ability to communicate. After all, you’re going to be in the belief-changing business, not merely the health or pain relief business.
7. Tour as many chiropractic practices as possible. Keeping the end goal in mind (a successful practice) use school vacations and holidays to visit as many practices as you can. Experiencing the variety and diversity of office layouts, practice procedures and policies will help you temper any dogmatism that you may receive from college instructors. Show up humble and appreciative 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. Take notes.
8. Create a notebook in which to keep track of your practice ideas. When I was growing up, one of the most anticipated moments every fall was receiving the Sears “Wish Book” catalog, which contained the newest toys and gadgets for Christmas. Create your own wish book for your future practice by keeping track of the observations, photos, scripts, forms and other details that you acquire while doing your practice research. Use it to keep yourself inspired.
9. Pursue self-development. Look for opportunities to invest in yourself by attending programs such as those offered by Landmark Education and the CLA Total Solution program or virtually anything offered by Dr. John DeMartini. Get to a Las Vegas Parker seminar and get down to Atlanta to attend Dynamic Essentials. Enroll in a Dave Ramsey money management class. To quote Dr. Larry Markson, “It’s the who, not the do.” In other words, your success and how well things go for you is based more on who you are than what you do.
10. Start thinking about how to market your practice. You want a practice, but you’ll end up in a small business, facing the same challenges as all small businesses: getting and keeping customers—even though we call them patients. Far too many chiropractors wait until the last minute to contemplate how they are going to introduce their valuable services to strangers in their community. If you haven’t yet, secure the domain name for your practice. At the very least, secure the domain of your own name if it's still available. A good idea might even be to start blogging on your website to begin earning some Google authority. Read some marketing books.
Following these 10 suggestions won’t make chiropractic college any easier—in fact, it’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. Good luck!