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Dynamic Chiropractic – August 12, 2011, Vol. 29, Issue 17

Avoiding the Mistakes Our Fathers (and Mothers) Made

By Donald M. Petersen Jr., BS, HCD(hc), FICC(h), Publisher

It was almost exactly 23 years ago that the most sincere effort to merge the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) and the International Chiropractors Association (ICA) failed. Blame can be funneled in many directions, but while the final vote resulted in the majority of ICA members (56 percent) voting in favor of the merger, ICA bylaws required a two-thirds vote to allow the merger to take place.

The announcement that the much-anticipated merger had been voted down appeared in the Aug. 1, 1988 issue of this publication. Interestingly enough, the announcement that my father, the founder of Dynamic Chiropractic, had also passed away occurred just seven issues (3 ½ months) later.

Back in 1988, we conducted a survey on unity at the same time the merger was being debated by the ICA and ACA. Here are some of the results:

  • 65 percent of ICA members favored merger, with 79 percent willing to join a united association.
  • 94 percent of ACA members favored merger, with 98 percent willing to join a united association.
  • 90 percent of DCs who didn't belong to either association favored merger; 52 percent stated they would immediately join a united association.

Back then there were only about 41,000 doctors of chiropractic practicing in the United States. Using the math above, I calculate that the new united association could have had as many as 30,000 members. That is considerably better than our current situation: the combined general membership of the two associations is probably less than 10,000.

Imagine what we could have accomplished in the past 23 years with a national association featuring three-quarters of the profession as members (not to mention an annual budget of $18 million). Certainly the parade of challenges we now face would be much smaller. In addition, we could have accomplished a great deal more, probably in areas we don't even dare dream about today.

There are currently over 74,000 licensed DCs in the U.S. Using the same percentages, we could have a united national association of more than 55,000 members by now. With that kind of army, we could have changed the face of health care itself. We would certainly enjoy representation for chiropractic in the highest levels. The opinions of millions of consumers would be completely different right now had we spent the past 23 years (and an annual advertising budget of $10 million) teaching them about the value of chiropractic care.

Your practice would likely be a lot healthier. Between our ability to negotiate as one profession and a substantial war chest, your reimbursement rates and practice income would be considerably higher than it is today. Chiropractic would be leading health care reform instead of waiting to fight over whatever scraps drop off the table.

My father was a wonderful man who gave his heart and his life for chiropractic. I admire him greatly. But in the process of serving his profession, he let his own health deteriorate and didn't spend nearly enough time with his family. He died unnecessarily at age 61. I've tried to learn from his mistakes. I have made fitness a requirement, from eating right to regular exercise. My wife and children are a priority. I don't have hobbies, I have family.

The chiropractic profession in the United States has spent almost a quarter of a century trying to thrive with two separate, often-combative national associations. We have lost ground, missed opportunities and reached a point at which many DCs are unwilling to recommend chiropractic as a career choice.

Just two years after the failed merger attempt in the U.S., the Australians showed the world that they could succeed by forming one national association from two opposing ones. A couple of years later, the Japanese DCs accomplished the same kind of unity in their country. Back in 1971, South Africa had two associations along ACA and ICA lines. The government there wouldn't listen to either, and even refused to license any new doctors of chiropractic for 14 years. It was only when it was completely clear the profession would die that the associations joined to form the South African Chiropractic Association. The decision to achieve unity was rewarded just a few years later with new legislation and government-funded chiropractic education at the Durban University of Technology and the University of Johannesburg.

We have seen chiropractors in the rest of the world create more chiropractic colleges, stronger national associations and better practice environments than we currently enjoy in the U.S. One of the reasons they were able to do this is because, despite sometimes overwhelming differences, they only have one national association. As a united national association, the Canadian Chiropractic Association will soon be the largest national chiropractic association in the world. Imagine that – a Canadian association drawing from 7,000 DCs will be larger than two U.S. associations drawing from 70,000-plus DCs.

A recent ChiroPoll again asked the question: "Would you be a member of a unified national chiropractic association?" A resounding 87 percent of those who responded said they would. That works out to a membership of more than 64,000 in a united national association (and an annual budget of almost $40 million).

Again, we have a choice. We can make a difficult, painful change to unite the chiropractic profession in the United States or we can make the same mistakes our fathers (and mothers) did and bear the continued consequences.

Read more findings on my blog: You can also visit me on Facebook.

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