One of the advantages of sitting at my desk is the broad perspective I get of the chiropractic profession: hearing what the profession has to say, not just what I want to hear and believe.
My perspective tells me that the chiropractic profession is changing. The DCs graduating today do not necessarily think the same as the graduates did 20-25 years ago, or even within the last 5-10 years. The success of chiropractic in the U.S. and around the globe has earned the respect and interest from those outside the chiropractic "culture." Some of today's graduates do have different philosophical beliefs; many became DCs for different reasons than their predecessors. Our profession is less homogeneous than it was 20 years ago.
When Dynamic Chiropractic was first published in 1983, there were about 33,000 chiropractors in the U.S. Five years later, that number had grown to 40,000. By 1993, we had pushed past 48,000. Today, at over 60,000, DCs are graduating at a rate of more than 3,500 per year.
At this rate, we will surpass 75,000 DCs by 2004. And according to an article in the Fall 1996 issue of Health Affairs (vol. 15, no. 3), there will be well over 100,000 licensed chiropractors by the year 2010, with a ratio of 33.2 chiropractors per a population of 100,000. This figure is equal to the ratio currently being experienced by DCs in the state of Florida.
According to our most recent survey, 57 percent of the DCs currently in practice began practicing in the last 15 years. This recent influx has introduced significant new influences.
The recent introduction of ChiroPoll (www.chiroweb.com/chiropoll) onto DC's website (ChiroWeb) has provided an informal survey instrument that allows the chiropractic profession the chance to respond to some provocative questions. With anonymity assured, hundreds of chiropractors and students are providing interesting insight into the current character of the chiropractic profession.
One of the first survey questions asked was, "What made you decide to become a doctor of chiropractic?" As reported in the June 29, 1998 issue, the answers were quite revealing. The poll shows that only 60 percent of the respondents became chiropractors because of the unique chiropractic philosophy. Twenty-seven percent became DCs "to help people"; and 12 percent aspired to the profession to earn a better income.
In this issue, you will see another benchmark of our changing profession. The polling question was: "Should doctors of chiropractic be allowed to prescribe over-the-counter medication?" Despite chiropractic's history and philosophy, over the last decade there have been indications of a small but growing percentage of DCs who favor such a step. Our poll of 280 DCs and students found 64 percent voting against prescription rights, and 36 percent voting for them.
If this startles you, it does me too. My father was very strict when it came to drugs, regardless of whether a prescription was required. Our family holds true to this same philosophy.
Yes, the ChiroPoll surveys are informal, and the number of respondents give the poll little statistical validity. Further, one could argue that because the respondents are on the Internet, they tend to be more forward-thinking. But these results still point to a changing profession.
If you are a traditional-based chiropractor, this is an appalling trend. If you are a more recent graduate who believes it would be beneficial for your practice to have the ability to offer your patients over-the-counter medications, you're probably glad someone acknowledged your point of view.
This is just one example of the changing makeup of the chiropractic profession in the U.S. There are many more. As chiropractic continues to grow in popularity, it will attract a greater divergence of students. The next few years will be testing ones for our profession.
Can we grow, enjoy greater utilization, become more diverse, and still retain our uniqueness? Can this profession retain (or increase) its political and organizational integrity, or will we be reduced to a mass of squabbling subgroups?
Personal preferences (mine included) don't dictate the direction a profession takes. Ideally, our direction will be predicated on a combination of philosophy, farsightedness and careful planning.
Rather than ignore our differences, we need to acknowledge them and encourage dialogue that will bring understanding and facilitate concerted efforts wherever possible. As our profession changes, let's resist the temptation to banish different segments that disagree with us. Let's make a commitment to keep the doors of communication wide open as we continue to look for ways to exist and function as one profession with many facets.
The challenges we all face are great enough without adding internal practices and our patients will allow each of us to overcome these challenges and enjoy the fruits of our efforts.
Donald M. Petersen Jr., BS, HCD(hc), FICC(h)
Editor/Publisher Dynamic Chiropractic
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