Dynamic Chiropractic – July 1, 2013, Vol. 31, Issue 13

Changing Times

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

If you visit the website of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and search on the word chiropractic, more than 200 results appear. If you sort that list chronologically and look at the oldest entry, you will find "Medical News" that includes the following:

"Oct. 18, 1902: 'Chiropractic Physician' Arrested. – 'Dr.' H. D. Palmer, Los Angeles, was arrested, September 26, charged with practicing medicine without a license. The information on which the complaint was based is said to have been that the accused, who calls himself a 'chiropractic physician,' treated an advanced case of tuberculosis by jumping on and otherwise maltreating the patient, thereby 'stamping out the germs.'"1

If you re-sort the page and look at the most recent entry, you will find a "Patient Page" on low back pain that includes this:

"April 24, 2013: Treatment – Many treatments are available for low back pain. Often exercises and physical therapy can help. Some people benefit from chiropractic therapy or acupuncture. Sometimes medications are needed, including analgesics (painkillers) or medications that reduce inflammation. Surgery is not usually needed but may be considered if other therapies have failed." (Emphasis added)2

The 111 years between the two articles includes many DCs jailed for "practicing medicine without a license," a conspiracy to "contain and eliminate" the chiropractic profession, a successful lawsuit against the AMA, and extensive published research supporting the benefits of chiropractic. In the end, the AMA has admitted that chiropractic has value, at least for low back pain.

This is certainly a victory. Recognition from a competitor is always appreciated and can mean more that compliments from supporters.

Recently, an article in The Wall Street Journal citing "a new survey by CareerCast.com"4 reported that "chiropractor" was ranked as the 11th best job in the U.S. out of a list of 200 jobs. And while there was no shortage of chiropractic organizations that hailed these findings, most of these were long on accolades and short on details.

Comparing "chiropractor" to other health care professions for both the 2013 and 2012 reports gives a more balanced look at where we are and what we still need to address (see table). There is both good news and bad news in the 2013 results. The good news is that the job of being a chiropractor has moved up in rank eight places over last year, more than any of the other comparable health care professions. We are miles ahead of dentists, MDs, PAs, surgeons and RNs in rank.

Findings From the CareerCast.com Survey of Job Satisfaction: Health Care Professions
Job 2013 Rank 2012 Rank Change 2013 Average Income
Physical therapist 9 13 Up 4 $78,102
Chiropractor 11 19 Up 8 $66,361
Veterinarian 15 21 Up 6 $83,184
Podiatrist 23 24 Up 1 $119,234
Dentist 42 32 Down 10 $143,153
MD (general practice) 45 39 Down 6 $176,061
Physician assistant 50 26 Down 24 $89,097
Surgeon 51 45 Down 6 $311,078
Nurse (registered) 55 38 Down 17 $66,116

The bad news is that the average income for chiropractors in 2013 is about the same as RNs, and less than half that of podiatrists, dentists and MDs. Compared to surgeons, we make about one-fifth the income. The doctor of chiropractic has reached a certain level of credibility, but for many that level is translating into incomes that are not nearly what they should be for primary care providers.

Approaching this from a marketing standpoint, I consulted our marketing director, Tony Tomassini, to get his perspective. Tony pointed to two issues impacting this "good news, bad news" scenario for the chiropractic profession:

  • Brand Awareness – On the one hand, chiropractic has a high level of brand awareness. This is demonstrated by acknowledgements from the AMA and popular media. The consumer public has heard of chiropractic and has some idea about what we do.
  • Value Proposition – This involves demonstrating the benefits of chiropractic in a manner that makes people want to use it and be willing to pay for it. The 2013 average income figure suggests we haven't done a very good job in establishing chiropractic's value proposition.

While it is definitely important to continue our efforts in research and public relations, it is time to change the message. It's time to focus on the benefits of chiropractic care and the value of good spinal health. Research can certainly confirm this, but the public needs to appreciate the impact their doctor of chiropractic can have on their current and continued health. This message would certainly include our cost-effectiveness.

The public must see chiropractic as every bit as valuable as podiatry, dentistry and medicine before the average DC gets paid more. We are only halfway there in communicating our value proposition. We need to work harder on this.


  1. "Medical News: California. 'Chiropractic Physician' Arrested." Journal of the American Medical Association, Oct. 18, 1902;XXXIX(16):991-95.
  2. Patient Page: Goodman DM, et al. "Low Back Pain." Journal of the American Medical Association, 2013;309(16):1738.
  3. "Best and Worst Jobs of 2013." The Wall Street Journal, April 22, 2013.
  4. "Jobs Rated 2013: Ranking 200 Jobs From Best to Worst." CareerCast.com, 2013.

Read more findings on my blog: http://blog.toyourhealth.com/wrblog/. You can also visit me on Facebook.

Click here for more information about Donald M. Petersen Jr., BS, HCD(hc), FICC(h), Publisher.


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