Are Chiropractors Real Doctors?

The designation Doctor of Chiropractic, or D.C., is a university degree that authorizes the recipient to practice chiropractic medicine. The D.C. degree is categorized as a “first professional degree,” which usually encompasses a post-graduate course of study focused on the practical aspects of a profession. Unlike undergraduate degrees, first professional degrees focus less on the broad examination of a subject and more on specific, practical training. Some other professions which confer first professional degrees include optometry, dentistry, podiatry, accounting, and veterinary medicine. A person who achieves a D.C. degree from a chiropractic school is classified as a primary healthcare provider. This means that patients aren’t required to acquire a referral in order to be treated by a chiropractor.

  • A medical doctor, or M.D., must obtain an advanced professional degree, sometimes referred to as a terminal degree. A terminal degree represents the highest level of education attainable in a given field. Advanced professional degrees usually require the submission of a dissertation in the area of specialty. Although the chiropractic degree does entitle the holder to refer to himself or herself as a doctor, this designation is not equivalent to an M.D. or Ph.D.
  • Depending upon the guidelines of a particular school, you will need to complete between two and four years of undergraduate studies in order to pursue chiropractic school. Some schools specify a bachelor’s degree as the prerequisite for enrollment. Chiropractic school usually involves between four and five years of specialized training.
  • In addition, the World Health Organization acknowledges two other types of chiropractic degrees. One is an assimilated five-year bachelor’s degree, known as a B.Sc. Chiro. The other is a master’s degree program consisting of two to three years of post-bachelor’s degree training. In order to practice chiropractic medicine in the United States, however, you must earn these designations in conjunction with a D.C. degree.

In the U.S., Doctors of Chiropractic have not traditionally had the authority to prescribe medicines or perform surgery. In recent years, however, national and state chiropractic organizations have sought more advanced practicing privileges. In 2009, New Mexico became the first state in the U.S. to pass legislation authorizing the Advanced Practice Certification, or APC, designation. According to this legislation, House Bill 275, chiropractors who attain this designation will have “prescriptive authority for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes as authorized by statute.
However, this expanded authority will only be available to those who have a valid, up-to-date chiropractic license, and who complete additional training specific to the new designation. This includes a 90-hour toxicology and pharmacology course, according to the New Mexico Chiropractic Association. In addition, after December 31, 2012, the bill states that applicants for this credential must also achieve “successful completion of a graduate degree in a chiropractic clinical practice specialty.” Currently, however, the majority of U.S. chiropractors are not able to pursue this expanded licensure.

In most states, you will be required to achieve one of the three recognized chiropractic degrees, and then take a national board examination to acquire a license. According to the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners, the examinations for chiropractic licensure involve a three-part, written test. Each portion of the test includes 110 multiple-choice questions, which you’ll have 90 minutes to complete. The three parts of the test focus on areas ranging from general anatomy and physiology to chiropractic diagnosis and treatment. In the third portion of the test, you will be given six hypothetical cases, and will be required to respond to these cases through extended multiple-choice questions. There is also a fourth part to the test, which is a more practical, “hands on” portion, but is not required in all states.

Upon passing the national board exams, you will need to become licensed in the state in which you intend to practice. Each state has its own requirements for granting licensure.