Gaining Experience Before You Obtain Your License

Gaining Experience Before You Obtain Your License

When graduating from chiropractic school, a majority of doctors are underprepared for the realities of practice.  The clinical experience gained from the college’s clinic system may be sparse and lack variety of patient demographics and/or diagnoses.  Even with completion of business and documentation classes, many chiropractic physicians do not understand basic administrative or business principles vital for success, either as an associate or practice owner.

One of the best ways to broaden your skillset prior to obtaining your license is to obtain a job as a chiropractic assistant and/or work as a preceptor within an established practice.  Working within the chiropractic field also helps you start networking with fellow doctors, figure out where your clinical strengths are, and in what practice environment you would like to start your career.

In this article, we are going to describe the various ways you can gain experience within the chiropractic profession before you obtain your license as a chiropractic physician (DC).  Strategically using these principles from the beginning of your chiropractic education will help you be ahead of many of your peers as you enter practice.

Working as a Chiropractic Assistant (CA)

Although many chiropractic students may feel like they do not have enough time to work off-campus as a CA, the reality is that full-time chiropractic practice is not a “9 to 5 type job” — especially during the first 5-10 years of practice.  Learning to organize your time, complete class assignments, exams and perform well as a CA will help you gain the time management skills needed as a DC. 

In 2014, a survey of chiropractic students in the United States revealed that most chiropractic physicians graduate with over $125,000 in student loan debt.1   Obtaining part-time employment will help you reduce the amount of funds you need to take out in your student loans and help reduce financial pressure as you enter the workforce.  Assuming a pay rate of $12 per hour, if you worked 10 hours per week as a CA for 3 years of your chiropractic education, it could reduce your student loans by over $18,000.  This would reduce the average student’s debt load by almost 15%.

When you apply for a CA position, it’s important to know there are a variety of CA roles within the profession, including front desk, billing/coding, back-office/clinical and rehab.  One role is not better than another, but instead will help you learn about a different realm of practice.  It is ideal if you can “make the rounds” and try out several CA roles during your time as a student.

It is important to make sure you identify yourself as a CA and NOT a chiropractic physician when working as a CA before licensure.  It may come up in conversation with patients that you are a chiropractic student, but you must never cross the boundary line of calling yourself a doctor, making clinical recommendations, diagnosing or performing treatments other than what the licensed chiropractic physician has appropriately delegated to you.  Although you have greater knowledge than most CA employees, you have no greater legal rights or privileges than other individuals working as a CA within the State of Illinois. 

Some chiropractic physicians choose to work as a CA after graduation from chiropractic school, but before licensure as they take board examinations or wait for licensing paperwork to be completed.  Although you have the academic designation of “doctor,” it is not appropriate for you to be referred to as “doctor” as you work as a CA, since you do not legally have permission to do so until your license has been granted.

Working as a Preceptor

Most chiropractic colleges have a preceptor program available for students during the last trimester of their education.  In addition to learning clinical skills in the chiropractic college clinic, the preceptorship experience allows you to work within a chiropractic practice with an experienced DC as your mentor and supervisor. 

The specific rules surrounding the preceptor program will vary by school, so it is important to contact your educational facility to inquire about the process available to you. Specifically in Illinois, the licensed chiropractic physician will be required to be a faculty member of the chiropractic college at which you are enrolled, typically as adjunct faculty. In general, preceptors are allowed to gain experience examining patients, performing adjustments, taking x-rays and administering rehabilitation exercises during their preceptorship.  You may also be asked to accompany the mentor DC during marketing events or work in an administrative fashion doing coding, billing or front desk duties.

Unlike working as a CA, the preceptor position is unpaid, and you are still required to make tuition payments to your chiropractic college during your preceptorship because it is considered part of your education.  However, you are able to gain a higher level of clinical experience during a preceptor position, including practice administering the chiropractic adjustment, which is often very valuable as you refine your hands-on skills. 

  1. Lorence, J., Lawrence, D. J., Salsbury, S. A., & Goertz, C. M. (2014). Financial attitudes, knowledge, and habits of chiropractic students: A descriptive survey. The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, 58(1), 58–65.

About Author

Erin E. Ducat DC, CSCS, CCSP, DACRB, FACO

Dr. Erin Ducat graduated in 2006 from National University of Health Sciences and is triple board-certified in Chiropractic Orthopedics, Sports Medicine, and Rehabilitation. In addition, she is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS). Dr. Ducat also serves as the Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Illinois Chiropractic Society.


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