Despite being the second largest whole body health profession in the country, chiropractic remains one of the most misunderstood of professions. Are we back doctors? Witch doctors? What kind of school do we go to? Isn't it all quackery?
Today, I'm going to address some of the most common misconceptions I've encountered over the past 18 years:
1. Chiropractors aren't "real" doctors, are they?
Although we don't go to medical school, all chiropractors are "real" doctors. The degree on our diplomas say so, and, more importantly, so do state laws. In most states and under federal law, chiropractors are also regarded as physicians, with the only difference between us and medical doctors being that chiropractic doctors do not prescribe medications and medical doctors cannot safely adjust the spine. In some states, chiropractors can perform minor in-office surgery.
2. Speaking of prescriptions, if chiropractors are real doctors, why can't you prescribe drugs?
It's not so much a matter of "can't" as it is "don't want to." Chiropractic was founded as an alternative to the dangerous drugs and procedures in use by the medical profession at the end of the 19th century. Back then, medical doctors were still dosing their patients with mercury. Today, most of us became chiropractic physicians because we aren't very interested in the use of drugs, since we are adept at using several alternatives to pharmaceuticals.
That said, the times have changed, and the profession is changing with it. Chiropractic doctors in some states are readying their practice laws for changes which will incorporate chiropractic prescriptions of drugs. Most of us see drugs as a sometimes-necessary alternative to natural therapeutics, and it would be more convenient for our patients to simply provide the prescription at our offices.
If you have followed my blog, you know doubt have the impression that I am anti-drug, and to a certain extent I am. My problem with pharmaceuticals is mostly that they are used as an immediate, knee-jerk response to any problem a patient presents. And the overwhelming, suffocating marketing of drugs has hoodwinked the public into thinking that drugs are always the way to go. They aren't. But sometimes they are necessary.
So I support the movement toward prescriptions by chiropractors because I think, in all likelihood, patients are safer when we are dispensing them than when anyone else is writing the prescription.
3. Do you have to go to school to become a chiropractor?
I'll never forget one of the most painful moments in my life, when I was at a holiday dinner in Philadelphia with my fiance. I was in my first year of chiropractic school, studying like the devil to keep up with the classwork. While chatting with a young man at the table, I mentioned that I would be spending the next several years in school to become a chiropractor.
"Chiropractor?" he said incredulously. "That's just a mail-order degree! You don't have to go to school for that, do you?"
Yes, my new friend, yes indeed. You have to go to a real school for many years to become a chiropractor. I, in fact, have spent 10 years in school to get my degree, but granted, I took a bit of a detour as a science/technical journalist along the way.
The real fact is that chiropractic school is more extensive than medical school. Chiropractic students receive an average of 4,485 hours of education, compared to medical doctors, who receive only 4,248. We spend over twice as much time studying neurology and differential diagnosis, and significantly more time on anatomy and embryology.
And, yes. It's a slog.
4. But chiropractors aren't allowed to order tests, are they?
I order tests every day of the week, from laboratories across the country. I order TB tests, metabolic profiles, MRIs, CT scans, ultrasounds and dozens of more esoteric blood, stool and urine tests used only by those in my specialty.
Not only do I order tests, I perform them. We do EKG tests right in the office. And my office includes a CLIA-certified lab, which is cleared to perform multiple tests, from urinalyses to strep tetst to drug testing.
In fact, when I first began practicing, I kept body and soul together by performing physicals for life insurance companies, the major component of which was drawing several vials of blood to send off to their lab. I got pretty good with sticking needles, a foreshadowing of what was to come.
5. Well, that all sounds good. But the fact of the matter is, chiropractic is not scientifically-based. How do you explain that?
Chiropractic was indeed founded on principles that, today, look less than logical, and certainly aren't supported by science. But, remember, at the same time chiropractic was founded, medical doctors were still bloodletting their patients and refusing to wash their hands between surgeries in the rather egomaniacal belief that no germs would dare exist on their august hands.
Like medicine, chiropractic has come a long way since then. There are many scientific journals dedicated to the investigation and further understanding of chiropractic's unique power to improve health, and it is today based on sound scientific principles backed by the research.
In fact, I would be willing to bet that the therapeutics I provide on a daily basis have a better foundation in science than much of what is performed in a medical doctor's office.
Most of these misperceptions, by the way, come from nearly a century of lies and misinformation that was spread about chiropractic doctors by the AMA. It took a massive anti-trust lawsuit and a federal judge unaffected by AMA lobbying money to force a stop to the overt oppression of chiropractors.
And although I have seen the prevalence of some of these myths subside somewhat, it will probably take another generation until chiropractors gain their rightful place in American healthcare. I hope that I am still practicing when that day comes, not because of the victory it will mean for my profession, but because it will be a victory for my patients.