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What does a chiropractor do?
A chiropractor diagnoses, treats, manages and prevents musculoskeletal and joint disorders and some nervous system conditions, focusing on the spine. They help patients by manually manipulating their bones, joints, muscles and soft tissues. They assess patients’ symptoms, make diagnoses and use various techniques to treat their musculoskeletal problems.
Chiropractors can work with patients of all ages and abilities with various ailments, such as back, neck, elbow and shoulder pain and ongoing conditions like osteoarthritis and sciatica. They can also specialise in other fields, such as neurology, acupuncture, sports injuries and pregnancy. Therefore, what a chiropractor does will depend on their role and specialisms.
Chiropractors aim to help patients control and relieve their pain, manage ongoing conditions, recover from injuries and prevent a recurrence. Their ultimate goal is to help patients with pain and to improve their health and well-being to lead happier and healthier lives.
Chiropractors will carry out many tasks, including consulting with patients, asking patients about medical histories, assessing patients’ symptoms, determining whether chiropractic treatment is suitable, making diagnoses, designing treatment plans, conducting physical examinations, treating patients, carrying out other procedures, advising patients, making referrals, etc. The role will also have an element of administrative work, such as typing notes, maintaining patient records and writing reports.
Chiropractors can work alone in their own practices or with colleagues in clinics, such as senior staff, other chiropractors, physiotherapists, acupuncturists, massage therapists, yoga or Pilates instructors, assistants, receptionists and administrative staff. They can also liaise with various external stakeholders, including patients (also known as clients) and their families/friends, GPs, doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals.
A chiropractor can work for many different-sized organisations. They may work for large organisations, e.g. the NHS, or smaller companies, such as private chiropractor clinics and centres. Most chiropractors choose to have their own practice and become self-employed, as the NHS have limited opportunities.
Chiropractors’ responsibilities will depend on many factors, including their role, who they work for, where they work and the area in which they specialise.
Some examples of their day-to-day duties may include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Consulting with patients and speaking to them about their symptoms.
- Asking patients about their medical histories, e.g. any previous medical issues and injuries, lifestyle, medications and general health.
- Assessing patients’ symptoms and determining whether chiropractic treatment is suitable.
- Making diagnoses and discussing the findings with patients.
- Designing treatment plans for patients.
- Conducting physical examinations of patients and assessing the range of movement.
- Using various manipulation techniques and other physical treatments and adjustments.
- Carrying out other procedures, such as blood pressure checks, blood tests and X-rays, and interpreting the results.
- Providing advice to patients on what they can do to alleviate their symptoms, e.g. diet, exercise, posture and lifestyle guidance.
- Conducting alternative treatments, such as acupuncture and massage therapy.
- Using various specialist equipment during treatments.
- Taking or typing notes during consultations.
- Maintaining confidential and accurate patient records.
- Writing reports.
- Making referrals to other healthcare professionals and liaising with them where required.
If a chiropractor is self-employed, they will have additional responsibilities when running a business.
A chiropractor can expect to work 37-40 hours a week. However, they can do more or fewer hours depending on the requirements of their role and patients’ needs.
Self-employed chiropractors’ hours will be variable, and they will set their own working hours.
Some chiropractors may work unsociable hours, e.g. early mornings, evenings, weekends and bank holidays.
Flexible work may be possible for some chiropractors, e.g. part-time hours or a job share. Many are self-employed, and there may be temporary contract work for some, i.e. locum.
Travel may be necessary for some chiropractors, as they may be required to travel between practices. There may be a requirement to cover others in other areas nationally, and there may also be opportunities to work overseas.
What to expect
Being a chiropractor, helping patients with their pain and helping them recover, is extremely rewarding. Individuals can go home at the end of the working day knowing they are helping make a difference to their patients’ (and their families’) health, happiness and well-being.
When people are in constant pain, it can cause mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety. People have been known to take their own lives because of pain and restricted movement. Therefore, in some cases, chiropractic treatments can save lives.
The role would suit individuals with a passion for helping people and a keen interest in human biology. They will need to keep up to date on current research and understand the needs of each patient they see. Using knowledge learnt and treatments, and seeing patients progress, improve and lead happier lives, can be fulfilling.
There are opportunities to work in various areas around the UK, such as cities, towns and villages. Chiropractors can also work from their own homes if they have the space. There are also opportunities for overseas work as most UK chiropractic qualifications are recognised abroad.
There are many different areas in which to specialise and various settings to work in. The salary is also good, especially if chiropractors are self-employed with their own business.
Being self-employed and having control of your own patients can benefit some individuals if they decide to have their own practice. They can work around their own needs and set their own hours, which reduces the need to travel. Also, being your own boss can be exciting and fulfilling.
Boredom will never be a problem for chiropractors, as their patients and work can be varied. They will see and try to help many people with various musculoskeletal disorders and other issues. One appointment may involve helping a person with sciatica, and the next, treating an elderly patient with a condition such as osteoarthritis. Of course, this will depend on their specialist area.
Even though being a chiropractor is rewarding, and there are many positives associated with the role, they may also face challenges, for example:
- Physical demands – being a chiropractor can be physically demanding. They will spend most of their working day on their feet. They will also manually handle patients and various specialist equipment. Individuals need a decent fitness level to become a chiropractor.
- Mental demands – the role can also be mentally demanding. Chiropractors will see and treat patients with various musculoskeletal disorders and other medical issues. Patients may be in a lot of pain and can get upset and angry, which can be stressful. Also, working in any people-facing role can be challenging, as they can be rude and even verbally and physically abusive.
- Mistakes can be costly – there is a lot of responsibility on chiropractors, especially as their role predominately involves work with the spine. One wrong move can cause serious injury and even lead to disability and death in worse cases. Incidents like these can be career-ending and may even lead to legal action.
- Hands-on role – chiropractic work is hands-on and will involve manual manipulation and sometimes massage. Individuals must be comfortable with coming into contact with people. It can be difficult, especially if people have poor hygiene. Introverted people may find the role challenging, as it requires a lot of interaction with patients and others.
- Education, registration and costs – individuals will need a degree to become a chiropractor, which can take many years to complete. Degree programmes are also costly, and individuals may need to apply for a student loan. They must also complete training after their degree and register with the General Chiropractic Council, which also costs. It is illegal to practise as a chiropractor in the UK without registration.
Every career choice has pros and cons, and prospective chiropractors must know what to expect before deciding whether it is a suitable role. It is physically and mentally demanding, they have a lot of responsibility, and it is hands-on. However, there are many positives and helping patients manage and control their pain and recover is very fulfilling. In some cases, it can actually save lives.
When considering whether to be a chiropractor, individuals should look at the pros and cons. They should also ensure they have the necessary personal qualities to carry out the role and responsibilities required.
Personal qualities needed to be a chiropractor
Some of the personal qualities that a chiropractor requires will include (this list is not exhaustive):
- A passion for helping people.
- An enquiring and critical mind.
- Knowledge of human biology and anatomy, especially the musculoskeletal and nervous systems.
- Knowledge of confidentiality, data protection and the GDPR.
- Good physical fitness and manual dexterity.
- Caring, compassionate, empathetic, sensitive and understanding.
- Having confidence, patience, tolerance and a reassuring manner.
- Having a non-judgemental and methodical approach.
- Friendly and approachable.
- Excellent communication skills, both written and verbal.
- Strong observational skills.
- Interpersonal skills.
- Thinking and reasoning skills.
- Problem-solving skills.
- Customer service skills.
- Coordination skills.
- Business management skills (if self-employed).
- Being thorough and having attention to detail.
- Being flexible and open to change.
- The ability to work both in a team and alone using own initiative.
- The ability to develop relationships and rapport with patients.
- The ability to recognise professional limits.
- The ability to work well under pressure and remain calm in stressful situations.
- The ability to use IT equipment and software competently.
Qualifications and training
To become a registered chiropractor, individuals must complete a degree approved by the General Chiropractic Council (GCC).
There are currently five institutions offering GCC-approved programmes, which are:
- AECC University College.
- London South Bank University.
- McTimoney College of Chiropractic.
- Teesside University.
- University of South Wales (The Welsh Institute of Chiropractic).
Undergraduate courses include:
- Master’s in Chiropractic – MChiro (Hons), MSci/C or integrated iMSc.
- Master’s in Chiropractic also available with Gateway Year – MChiro (Hons).
The degrees usually take four years (three years of full-time study and one year working under supervision).
Individuals typically need the following:
- Five GCSEs grades 9 to 4 (A* to C), or equivalent, including English, maths and science.
- Three good A levels or equivalent.
The entry requirements and the number of UCAS points needed will depend on each university, and individuals should check before applying. Some institutions may also invite applicants for an interview as part of the selection process.
Once an individual has their chiropractic degree, they can register with the GCC. They must meet the GCC’s eligibility requirements, pass competency tests and be on the register before practising.
Further information on registration can be found here.
Individuals can also go further with their studies and complete a postgraduate degree, such as:
- MSc Chiropractic.
- MSc Chiropractic (Graduate entry).
Individuals will typically need the following:
- MSc – at least a 2:1 classification in Master of Chiropractic – MChiro (Hons) course. They must also pass a Clinic Entrance Qualifying Examination (OSLER).
- Graduate entry – a 2:1 or 2:2 degree in a relevant health science-based subject or equivalent for a postgraduate degree. They will also need at least one year of relevant work experience or equivalent clinical experience from training and placements.
Individuals must undertake paid or voluntary work experience with a chiropractor before applying for university courses.
- Look on GCC’s register to find a local chiropractor.
- Apply for a role as a chiropractic assistant.
- Ask to do work experience at a practice.
- Shadow experienced chiropractors and treat under supervision.
The work experience needed will depend on the entry requirements. Some intuitions will require a certain number of hours or types of work experience. Individuals should always check the entry requirements.
Working or volunteering in healthcare, with the NHS or with charities could also be beneficial. Individuals may also want to gain work experience in customer-facing roles to develop skills needed for a person-centred job.
Individuals can browse job websites to look for relevant roles that could help them get experience. There is also information on volunteering and local opportunities on Do-IT, NCVO and Volunteering Matters.
Learning does not stop with experience or once someone becomes qualified. Attending relevant training courses and having additional certifications can help individuals enter the profession, enhance their employability and give them a competitive edge. Many colleges and accredited private training companies can provide relevant training courses.
A GCC-approved degree and registration are required to become a chiropractor. However, individuals could undertake a relevant training course to help them gain knowledge and work towards their goals.
Some examples of courses that may be useful for individuals looking at a career as a chiropractor include (this list is not exhaustive):
- Workplace first aid.
- Moving and handling.
- Equality and diversity.
- Disability awareness.
- COVID-19 awareness.
- Customer service skills.
- Complaints handling.
- Time management.
- Resilience training.
- Health and safety, e.g. manual handling, workplace stress, violence in the workplace, lone working and office health and safety.
- Data protection and the GDPR.
Professional bodies and associations, such as the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), the British Chiropractic Association (BCA), the Royal College of Chiropractors (RCC), the McTimoney Chiropractic Association (MCA), the Scottish Chiropractic Association (SCA), the United Chiropractic Association (UCA), the Chiropractic Association of Ireland (CAI) and others, can also advise on reputable training courses. Some also provide memberships, events and support to help individuals become chiropractors and give those already in the profession the means to continue their professional development. Continuing professional development (CPD) is mandatory to remain on GCC registers.
The type of training required will depend on what employers are looking for, an individual’s specialisms and the CPD requirements for accreditation and registration. As well as looking at professional body websites, it is also worth looking at several job advertisements to identify the courses required and other training needed for specialist roles. Jobs are on NHS Jobs, HealthJobsUK, Chiropractic Jobs Online, BCA Online Classified Ads, UCA ads, and other job sites, such as GOV.UK Find a Job Service, Glassdoor and Indeed. Also, look at recruitment agencies and the websites of individual clinics.
More relevant training and competence will open up more opportunities for chiropractors. Refresher training will also be required, as it is a legal requirement, and it keeps knowledge and skills up to date.
Criminal records checks
Chiropractors must undergo a criminal record check, as they may have contact with children and those classed as vulnerable. A criminal record, caution, warning or conviction may put off prospective employers. However, employers should account for the seriousness of the crime, when it occurred and its relevance to the role.
The organisation that holds criminal records will depend on the country within the UK, for example:
- England and Wales – Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS).
- Northern Ireland – AccessNI.
- Scotland – Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) scheme.
Some chiropractors will drive as part of their role, especially when travelling to different clinics or offering mobile treatments. Therefore, they should have a full clean driving licence.
Where do chiropractors work?
Chiropractors can work in many different settings, including (this list is not exhaustive):
- Chiropractic clinics and centres.
- Sports facilities.
- GP surgeries.
- Patients’ homes (mobile services).
- Their own home (self-employed).
- Courts and legal settings (testifying in cases).
They can work in treatment rooms, offices and reception areas.
They can work for public bodies and private organisations, for example:
- The NHS.
- Private healthcare providers.
- Private clinics.
- Private clients, e.g. athletes and celebrities.
They can also be self-employed and work for themselves or an agency.
How much do chiropractors earn?
A chiropractor working in the NHS is subject to a band pay system. Examples are on the agenda for change pay rates.
The exact salaries for chiropractors will depend on the role, location, specialisms, qualifications and years of experience. As individuals progress in their careers, there may be opportunities to enter more senior positions, and their earnings will increase.
Here are some examples of average salaries (these are a guide only and are subject to change):
- £20,000 to £80,000 per year. Graduates’ average salary six months after graduation is £27,000 (AECC University College).
- £30,339 per year (Payscale).
- £37,118 per year (Indeed).
- £37,218 per year (Talent.com)
- £39,858.93 per year (Check-a-Salary).
A self-employed chiropractor’s salary is variable, as most will set their own rates. It will also depend on how many patients they have, their hours, their qualifications and specialisms, and the expenses they have to pay, e.g. clinic space, equipment, utilities, training and registration. They typically charge between £30 and £80 per session.
Types of chiropractor roles to specialise in
There are many different chiropractor roles and areas in which to specialise, for example (this list is not exhaustive):
- Acupuncture – specialising in using fine needles and acupuncture techniques to help patients with pain. There is Dry Needling, Western Medical Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) Acupuncture.
- Animal care – specialising in providing chiropractic treatments to animals such as horses and dogs. Individuals will typically need a degree in veterinary medicine and/or chiropractic. They may also need British Veterinary Chiropractic Association (BVCA) membership.
- Diagnostic imaging – specialising in obtaining and interpreting diagnostic imaging, such as CT scans, X-rays, MRIs and ultrasounds. They can use these images to identify the root cause of patients’ problems and pain so they can know how best to treat them.
- Geriatrics – specialising in working with elderly patients. They help them with musculoskeletal issues and pain associated with ageing, e.g. arthritis.
- Neurology – specialising in neurologically-based problems, such as movement disorders, post-stroke rehabilitation, chronic pain, vertigo, head injuries, nerve entrapment syndromes, etc.
- Orthopaedics – specialising in the skeletal system, bones and associated issues, such as deformities, diseases and damage, e.g. breaks and fractures.
- Paediatrics – specialising in diagnosing, treating and preventing neuromusculoskeletal system disorders in babies and young children.
- Pregnancy – specialising in the pain and discomfort women face during pregnancy, e.g. low back and pelvic pain, neck tension and headaches.
- Rehabilitation – specialising in helping patients recover from various injuries and conditions more quickly than if they were treating them alone. They usually work with sports injuries to get patients safely active again.
- Sports injuries and medicine – specialising in acute and chronic injuries sustained during sports and helping to prevent future injuries. They can also help treat recurring sports-related issues. Some will work directly with professional sports teams and athletes.
Chiropractors can also specialise in specific areas of the body and/or problems, e.g. back, neck, shoulders, sciatica, osteoarthritis, sprains, strains, etc.
All different chiropractor roles will require differing knowledge, skills, experience and qualities. Some may need specific qualifications, e.g. postgraduate and additional training for specialised areas. Chiropractors must know how to diagnose and treat different musculoskeletal problems, provide advice and maintain medical records. Any other areas of expertise will depend on what an organisation is looking for (if employed) and the type of work an individual wants.
If chiropractors do not carry out their roles effectively, it can result in patients’ injuries or pain worsening and may result in disabilities and even cost lives. It can also affect their reputation. In serious cases, they may have their registration to practise revoked. Therefore, whatever the type of role, chiropractors must have the necessary competence to carry out the work professionally and safely. They should also know the limits of their competency and not use adjustments, treatments and techniques if they are not trained and competent.
Standards, technology, treatments, techniques, equipment, therapies and laws are updated regularly. Therefore, chiropractors must keep ahead of the latest developments and changes to remain legally compliant and carry out their roles effectively and safely. CPD gives individuals the knowledge and skills to keep up to date with these changes and understand their responsibilities. It also helps them stay registered with the GCC and progress in their career.
Joining a professional body or association, covered earlier, can help prospective and current chiropractors enhance their skills and overall career. They can offer different levels of membership, CPD, advice and support, access to industry contacts and networking events.
There is ample opportunity for career progression within this field. With more qualifications and experience, a chiropractor can become a director, associate or senior chiropractor. They can also decide to specialise in a specific area, such as sports, neurology, paediatrics, rehabilitation or pregnancy. Alternatively, they may choose to become a partner in a clinic or become self-employed with their own business.
Knowledge, skills and experience from being a chiropractor can also lead to a career in different areas. For example, an individual may want to work in education and training, research, or other areas of healthcare, such as osteopathy. They may also decide to do additional qualifications and work in different sectors, such as veterinary and animal care or alternative therapies.
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