10 Lessons I Wish I’d Learned in Chiropractic School

During chiropractic school I was focused on one thing and one thing only… graduating and passing boards. Everyone who enters chiropractic school is focused on the same thing, and that is exactly what they teach you; how to graduate and how to pass boards.

lessons-learned

Passing the boards is only the first step, though and it’s not really that pivotal of a step in the grand scheme of being a health care provider. Like any education system, exams like national board exams show whether you are a good test taker rather than showing whether or not you are a good, or will be a good and competent chiropractor.

There are some critical lessons I wish I had been taught in school that would have better prepared me for not only being a successful chiropractor, but also being successful at life and living.

Here are 10 lessons I wish I had learned in chiropractic school with a brief description. Going into detail on each point would warrant its own individual article, and I just may do that sometime in the future.

Lesson 1: Chiropractic is a Business

From day one it is drilled into your head that chiropractic is the philosophy, art and science of detecting and correcting spinal subluxations. This is very true, however it is only the explanation of “what” not the explanation of “why.” Why would you want to pursue this venture? Merely and altruistically for the sake of your fellow man?

No! This is how you’re going to feed your family.

If you are going to own your own clinic, you are a business owner first and a chiropractor second. If you’re not interested in business, then what you’re really starting is a ministry, in which case you are going to have a hard row ahead of yourself because running a ministry can be much tougher than running a business.

You are a business owner first. Learn what it takes to own, manage and grow a successful business. Remember this heuristic which has guided me for many years, but took me a while, in the beginning, to grasp:

“The biggest mistake any business makes is assuming it’s different from any other business.”

You will thank me, and your hungry family will thank me.

Lesson 2: You Are a Service Provider

Chiropractic, while a business, is more specifically a service business, and you the chiropractor are a service provider. In terms of pure mechanics of providing a service and being compensated for that service, you are not much different than a plumber or a sheep shearer or a shoe repairman.

People will do business with you for the same reasons they choose to do business with anyone. Any given patient is thinking four things when they enter your office:

  • I have a problem.
  • Are you qualified to help me with my problem?
  • Can I afford to hire you?
  • Can you deliver the goods?

Fail to acknowledge their problem and they won’t feel like you’ve listened to them. Fail to assure them you know how to help solve a problem like their’s and they’ll think they’ve come to the wrong place. Fail to demonstrate the value of what you do and they won’t happily give you any money. Fail to satisfy their desires for doing business with you and they won’t ever come back.

Keep the customers happy and you’ll be happy.

Lesson 3: You Must Learn How to Market Your Services

When I first learned about marketing, I couldn’t believe it had never been on my radar before. I felt like a fool. A really naive fool. Marketing is the life blood of any business, and that includes your chiropractic practice.

How is anyone going to know what you can help them with if you never tell them? How is anyone going to know what a subluxation is and how it can be corrected, unless someone tells them?

How is the back pain sufferer with a bulging disc going to know that there is a solution to their problem without requiring drugs or surgery unless someone tells them?

How is anyone going to say, “This guy is the guy I need to consult for my problem,” unless someone tells them that chiropractic may be the answer they are looking for?

Marketing is how they know you’re who they need to call. You can do spinal screenings, health talks, newspaper advertising, ask for referrals, social media, whatever medium you choose, just be sure it reaches the hungry market you’re looking to serve and it addresses the reason why they need to do business with you.

Lesson #4: Patients Are Customers

Patients are your customers and you have to please your customers if you want them to stay, pay and refer. You please them by listening to them, acknowledging their pain, providing a solution to their pain and rewarding their loyalty.

If after listening to your customer’s pain you determine that you can’t give them what they’re looking for with the tools and services you have at your disposal, then refer them to someone who can. They WILL come back because you listened and acknowledged and provided a solution.

Even if you never see them again, they’ll refer others to you that they think you can help.

Lesson #5: Chiropractic is NOT a Religion

Chiropractic has a problem. At least chiropractic vitalism has a problem.

Chiropractic appears to many people on the outside looking in as a religion, or cult.

Let’s look at how religion is defined according to Wikipedia:

Religion is a cultural system of behaviors and practices, world views, ethics, and social organisation that relate humanity to an order of existence.

That final phrase of relating “… humanity to an order of existence” is the clincher.

Certainly chiropractic as it is often practiced by some of the most die-hard vitalistic zealots can be described as a religion. I have discussed this before in my article about vitalistic chiropractic and the First Commandment.

I wish I had known the roots of chiropractic and the Palmers affinity for the occult before I entered school. I’m not saying it would have deterred me from attending, but it would have prepared me for the internal controversies that plague the profession.

Many chiropractic zealots emphasize the philosophy portion of philosophy, art and science, but their treatment of their philosophy as THE driving force behind what they do, makes their philosophy their religion.

A spiritually healthy person lets their theology drive their philosophy rather than letting their philosophy be the ultimate authority in their life.

Lesson #6: Your Market Does NOT Desire Another Chiropractor

Your patients don’t want an adjustment. They could care less about their subluxations being corrected.

They want their head to stop hurting, they want to walk upright again, they want their stomach to calm down, they want to be able to make it to work the next day.

You are not Starbucks. You do not have some national driving force generating interest and desire for what you do. YOU have to create that desire.

That’s a good thing because it means you can be in control of how your market perceives you. It means that as long as you can differentiate yourself and demonstrate your value to the community, you can practice where ever you please, regardless of how many chiropractors are already practicing there.

Lesson #7: Chiropractic is NOT the Only Thing People Need

Now, to be fair, school did not necessarily teach that chiropractic was all that people needed, and it’s not something I have ever believed, and I don’t think most chiropractors believe that chiropractic is the answer to all of life’s problems.

But…

There is a pervasive attitude that chiropractic COULD be the answer to most of life’s problems, including the solution to human suffering.

For example, B.J. Palmer was known to have believed that chiropractic could empty the prisons if the prisoners would just have their subluxations removed. As if chiropractic is the solution to sin, death and the devil.

But, I digress.

This becomes a problem when “straight” chiropractors try to shame other chiropractors for addressing nutrition through supplementation and saying that any external inhibitor or stimulator has no place in chiropractic.

You are first and foremost doctors and “doctor” means teacher. You have been gifted a fantastic education on the function of the human body, and you are primary health care providers, so your patients look to you as experts in all things health.

When you approach life with only one model, or latice-work by which to hang experiences on, you seriously handicap your ability to relate to your world and to the world of your patients (unless of course that model is a Biblical model of vocation, but that’s a topic for another time).

Charlie Munger, Warren Buffet’s right-hand-man, once said, on the Art of Worldly Wisdom,

…the first rule is that you’ve got to have multiple models—because if you just have one or two that you’re using, the nature of human psychology is such that you’ll torture reality so that it fits your models, or at least you’ll think it does. You become the equivalent of a chiropractor who, of course, is the great boob in medicine.

It’s like the old saying, “To the man with only a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” And of course, that’s the way the chiropractor goes about practicing medicine. But that’s a perfectly disastrous way to think and a perfectly disastrous way to operate in the world. So you’ve got to have multiple models.

While I would obviously have some issues with the way Mr. Munger views chiropractors as a whole, I totally understand where his sentiments concerning chiropractors and chiropractic comes from.

You do your patients a disservice when you don’t provide them all of the education and building blocks for taking control of their own health that is within your scope of practice as dictated by your state laws.

If you insist that your job is merely to educate your patients on what chiropractic (i.e. adjusting only) is and does for their health and you ignore all of the other aspects of what you can offer and educate them on, then you are just practicing dogma, and you are giving the impression to the patient that you believe all they need is what you offer and all you offer is adjustments, ergo all they need is adjustments.

You are a hammer and everything is a nail.

Lesson #8: Understanding Human Physiology Makes You a Better Clinician

I had a patient named William Coury, founder of American Neutriceuticals, who was the longest surviving victim of primary bone cancer. At the time I knew him he had been in remission for nearly 50 years and he had accomplished this through all of his own research and treating himself through nutrition, alternative and conventional means.

He even developed a surgical procedure to be performed on himself to save the bone that had been infected with the cancer. The hard part was finding a surgeon who was willing to perform the procedure. He had to go out of the country to find a surgeon willing to attempt it, but the procedure was performed and it saved his limb.

Bill Coury was an honest to goodness rocket scientist and inventor, holder of multiple patents. Most importantly, he was a brilliant critical thinker.

I once told him a brief history of a friend of mine who was experiencing a strange fever pattern on a daily basis. He had been to his doctor several times, but they couldn’t find out what was wrong.

He sat and thought about what I had said, and after a few minutes of thinking, told me that my friend was suffering from a bladder infection… and he was right! We’re talking House levels of knowledge here!

Understanding the intricate workings of physiology can help you come to some conclusions about what is actually going on with your patient.

Recurrent low-grade fevers with no other symptoms? Maybe it’s a bladder infection. Unexplained low grade blood pressure? Maybe it’s their kidneys. You get the picture.

Understand human physiology and the way things work together. This could keep you occupied for the rest of your life.

Lesson #9: Evidence Based Techniques are Superior

A process driven life will always be more successful than a discretionary life. Will a proven process give you the results you desire every single time? No, but in the end, you will have a much more successful career if you learn and master a technique that tells you what to do and when to do it rather than a “pop and pray” technique.

Richard Dennis, an astoundingly successful commodities trader well known for following a proven investment trading system said, that rules are always better than judgements.

“The majority of the other things that didn’t work were judgments. It seemed that the better part of the whole thing was rules. You can’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘I want to have an intuition about a market.’ You’re going to have way too many judgments.”

Following rules is always better than making judgements.

I have learned that all of life is better served by finding proven processes to attain your goal rather than just winging it. This includes business and marketing and investing and parenting and spousing and practicing.

I practice two techniques. An upper cervical technique and Activator Methods. Both have distinct before and after tests to tell you when and where to adjust and whether or not you got it after you’ve made the adjustment.

Whatever technique resonates with you, pick the one that is the most objective and is cross-practitioner-repeatable. You will be more confident in knowing what to do with your patients, you will be more fulfilled and your patients will be happier.

Lesson #10: Focus on Releasing People from Care

Although this flies in the face of all that chiropractic coaching programs teach you about being a successful chiropractor, teaching your patients how to not need you is one of the most important and valuable gifts you can give your community and the profession.

Subluxations are not a given in any single person’s life. Subluxations happen for a reason. Teach your patients how to avoid doing things that result in subluxations and they will have less subluxations.

This is the greatest service you can offer your patients. Put them on an as-needed basis as quickly as possible.

Bonus Lesson: After Graduation is When Your Education Really Begins

The truth of the matter is, you never really learn any of the important stuff in school anyway. Real life is the greatest of all teachers as long as you pay attention and stay humble and teachable.

School is designed to give you the foundation you need in order to competently take the tests required to become a licensed professional. There is no way that in 4 years a school can teach you everything you need to know.

Knowing this and knowing the previous 10 lessons, while you’re in school will prepare you for a happier, more productive and successful career as a chiropractor.

*Question*: What lessons do you wish you had learned earlier in life?

Husband, dad, internationally beloved raconteur, chiropractor, writer, podcaster, KCBS Certified BBQ Judge.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Bill Brewer

    The best lesson I learned early was that you are a genius!