Chiropractic And Medical Education

Have you ever wondered just how much education a chiropractic doctor has? The facts may very well surprise you. Today, highly specialized training is required to graduate and earn licensure. Chiropractic school is quite similar to that of medical school, especially during the first 2 years of the 4 year program.

A chiropractic program consists of 4 academic years of professional education after completion of a 4 year undergraduate degree. Chiropractic education averages a total of 4,822 hours, and ranging from 4,400 hours to 5,220 hours in the 16 colleges. This includes an average of 1,975 hours in clinical sciences and 1,405 hours of clinical clerkship. The minimum hours for accreditation by the Council on Chiropractic Education is 4,200 hours.

Chiropractic doctors are well trained to refer to other health care providers when clinically necessary. It is for this reason that a chiropractor's training includes courses such as cardiology, gastrointestinal, obstetrics, gynecology, and pathology amongst others.

Chiropractic and Medical Education:
Two questions are of paramount importance in comparing the curricula of the two professions; what subjects are taught and how much is taught? The two programs are relatively similar in total student contact hours: an average of 4,822 hours in chiropractic schools compared with 4,667 hours in medical schools (Coulter, et al, submitted).

Basic science comprises 25-30 percent of the total contact hours in both the chiropractic and medical programs (Table 1) and the two programs have roughly similar contact hours in biochemistry, microbiology, and pathology (Table 2). Chiropractors receive substantially more hours in anatomy education and physiology but many fewer in public health.

Subjects Class Hours
Chiropractic Students
Class Hours
Medical Students
Anatomy 540 510
Chemistry 165 325
Diagnosis 630 325
Microbiology 120 115
Neurology 320 110
Obstetrics 60 150
Orthopedics 210 155
Pathology 360 400
Physiology 240 325
Psychiatry 60 145
Radiology 360 150
HOURS 3,065 2,710
Additionally Required
Spinal Manipulation
Advanced Radiology
General Surgery
TOTAL HOURS 4,485 4,250

Today's Doctor of Chiropractic is well-educated. The science of chiropractic health care requires a special emphasis on:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Pathology
  • Neurology
  • Biomechanics
  • X-ray imaging techniques
  • Spinal adjusting techniques
  • and other health related subjects
After graduating as a Doctor of Chiropractic, each candidate must pass a series of demanding National Board Examinations. Then each doctor applies to the governing state agency where they wish to practice. An additional examination is then given that must be passed before the Chiropractor is granted license to practice in that particular area.

As you can imagine, chiropractors are not only highly educated, but strictly regulated. This is probably one of the reasons that Chiropractic has the most safe record of treatment, health care industry wide.

Not to stop there, a chiropractor's education never ends. Doctors of Chiropractic must complete postgraduate instruction for annual license renewal and in order to stay current on the latest scientific research.

Comparisons of the Overall Curriculum Structure for Chiropractic and Medical Schools

Chiropractic Schools Medical Schools
Mean Percentage Mean Percentage
Total Contact Hours 4822 100% 4667 100%
Basic Science Hours 1416 29% 1200 26%
Clinical Science Hours 3406 71% 3467 74%
Chiropractic Science Hours 1975 41% 0 0%
Clerkship Hours 1405 29% 3467 74%

Source: Center for Studies in Health Policy, Inc., Washington, DC. Personal communication of 1995 unpublished data from Meredith Gonyea, PhD.

Continuing Education
Participation in Continuing Education by chiropractors is commonplace as 47 of 50 States have mandatory continuing education requirements to maintain or renew a license to practice (FCLB, 1997).

Specialty Training
Chiropractic Physicians may also elect to take on some form of specialty, i.e. Neurology, Nutrition, Orthopedics, Radiology, Rehabilitation, Sports, Pediatrics, Whiplash, etc. Specialty training is available through U.S. chiropractic colleges for part-time postgraduate education programs or full-time residency programs. Postgraduate education programs are available in family practice, applied chiropractic sciences, clinical neurology, orthopedics, sports injuries, pediatrics, nutrition, rehabilitation, and industrial consulting. Rehabilitation has become a particularly popular program (Liebenson, 1996). Residency programs include radiology, orthopedics, family practice, and clinical sciences (Christensen, 1993). A typical residency program is 2-3 years in duration and includes ambulatory care and inpatient clinical rotations at chiropractic and medical facilities, along with didactic and research experiences. Other less rigorous postgraduate training programs may take 1-3 years to complete on a part-time basis. Both the residency and postgraduate programs lead to eligibility to sit for competency examinations offered by specialty boards recognized by the American Chiropractic Association, the International Chiropractors' Association, and the American Board of Chiropractic Specialties. Specialty boards may confer "Diplomate" status in a given area of focus upon successful examination. Chiropractic orthopedics and sports chiropractic are the most prevalent specialty certifications.

Taken from Chiroweb. Chiropractic in the United States:Training, Practice, and Research. AHCPR Publication No. 98-N002.
December 1997, CHAPTER III, CHIROPRACTIC TRAINING. D. Coulter, PhD; Alan H. Adams, DC; Ruth Sandefur, DC, PhD.

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