Students completing an undergraduate degree in the health sciences have many options upon graduation. When evaluating the direction for a healthcare career, graduates often consider the postgraduate options of chiropractic and medical school. Since both are significant commitments regarding study time and financial investment, it’s not a decision to be made without all the necessary information.
Today, we’ll explore the differences and similarities between the schooling and practice of chiropractors and medical doctors. But before we dive in, keep in mind that both chiropractors and medical doctors are educated and qualified professionals with vital expertise to offer their patients. So let’s define the two a bit more thoroughly.
Chiropractor vs. Medical Doctor: Definitions
A chiropractor has completed a Doctorate of Chiropractic (DC) degree. This postgraduate program typically takes four or more years of dedicated, graduate-level study in anatomy, microbiology, radiology, functional kinesiology, and chiropractic care principles and philosophy. Upon completion of a Doctor of Chiropractic, graduates must take and pass a series of exams to become licensed through the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE).
Chiropractors are licensed practitioners who diagnose and treat mechanical disorders of the spine and joints. These professionals typically administer treatment through hands-on, holistic methods such as using water, heat therapy, physical supports, and manual adjustments of the spine. Chiropractors do not prescribe medications or complete surgery.
A medical doctor is a licensed physician who has graduated from an accredited medical school. Their postgraduate education also takes an average of four years to complete and includes courses in pathology, anatomy, biochemistry, medicine, chemistry, statistics, and calculus, among others. After graduation, medical doctors must complete a residency of 3+ years under the watchful eye of more experienced professionals.
Medical doctors are physicians that typically specialize in a certain field, such as cardiology or oncology. These professionals work to promote, maintain, and restore the health of their patients. They may diagnose diseases, tend to injuries, or treat other physical and mental impairments. Medical doctors, unlike chiropractors, often prescribe medication and carry out surgical procedures.
With these working definitions in mind, let’s unpack some additional similarities.
Chiropractic vs. Medical School: The Similarities
There are considerable commonalities between chiropractic and medical programs. In fact, before graduate school, the undergraduate education of budding chiropractors and medical doctors can be identical. Both types of students will study something health science-related for a bachelor’s degree.
Furthermore, in their graduate studies, regarding the basic sciences, these programs are more similar than dissimilar, both in the types of subjects offered and in the time allotted to each topic. Chiropractic and medical programs also share some common areas in the clinical sciences.
Additionally, chiropractors and medical doctors share a similar career goal: the health and wellness of the patient. They desire their patients to live a fulfilling life, free from pain. And while the wording differs slightly, chiropractors and medical doctors take an oath upon graduation, dedicating their practice to do no harm, serve the sick, and alleviate suffering without regard to the patient’s race, color, or class.
Furthermore, both professions are subject to governing bodies that oversee the quality of professionals in the field and work to preserve the quality and ethics of chiropractic and medical care. Chiropractors and medical doctors must be licensed according to state requirements and abide by specific professional standards when serving patients. There is a common misconception that chiropractors, as non-medical doctors, work in an unregulated capacity like herbalists or naturopaths. This is not the case.
Regarding schooling, Donald Corenman, MD, DC – a practicing medical doctor and chiropractor – states that “medical school is similar to chiropractic school in the first two years. The academic courses are similar, and anatomy is just as rigorous in chiropractic school as in medical school. However, the need to absorb information (for instance, microbiology) is greater in medical school as the young MD will need to know the differential of different types of infections. In contrast, a young DC does not have to understand those differences for future practice.”
Chiropractic vs. Medical School: The Differences
Donald Corenman, MD, DC, continues, “The bigger differences [between chiropractic and medical postgraduate education] are in the last two years of school. In chiropractic school, much emphasis is placed on manipulation and biomechanics, as taught in a clinic at the school. In medical school, there are multiple six-week rotations in medicine, surgery, pediatrics, and many specialties (ex: dermatology, orthopedics, and rheumatology).”
“The biggest difference is that in medicine, the newly minted physician now has to take at least a three-year residency and quite possibly a five to six-year residency. You might then add to that a fellowship of one to three years. The newly minted chiropractor can go immediately into practice.”
As Dr. Corenman notes, chiropractic and medical education differ most in clinical practice requirements, which in medical school far exceeds that in chiropractic school. While a chiropractor can open a new practice directly after graduation and passing their licensing exams, the physician must complete 3-9 years of additional clinical hours under the supervision of an experienced physician to further specialize and hone their skills.
But don’t assume this means chiropractors are less qualified than physicians. It’s imperative to understand that, upon graduation, chiropractors are already specialists in their field, while a newly minted physician has a more general understanding of the medical practice. You may be surprised to learn that chiropractic graduate school typically requires over 200 additional credit hours than medical training courses.
A Doctor of Chiropractic (DC), also known as a chiropractor or chiropractic physician, is a medical professional trained to precisely diagnose and treat disorders of the musculoskeletal and nervous systems. Yet, there are areas for further specialization. For example, some chiropractors choose to specialize in areas including neurology, orthopedics, and sports medicine.
The University of Bridgeport’s Doctor of Chiropractic degree program is accredited by The Council on Chiropractic Education. The UB School of Chiropractic (UBSC) is a proud member of the Association of Chiropractic Colleges.
Reach out today to learn more about UBSC.