How Do I Become a Chiropractor?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2019), the demand for chiropractors is expected to grow by 7 percent between 2018 and 2028. Healthcare providers are increasingly pivoting to a holistic approach to patient care. Rather than relying on invasive surgery or prescribed medications, providers are seeing the financial and health benefits of integrative, complementary, and preventive healthcare. With an aging Baby Boomer population and greater research available about holistic options, there are more health insurance plans that cover chiropractic care.

Chiropractors rely on spinal adjustments, ultrasound, massage therapy, and supportive equipment to treat health problems related to body form and movement. Emphasizing the alignment of the musculoskeletal system, specifically the spine, chiropractic uses different types of manual treatment to prevent or care for injuries and pain.

The musculoskeletal system comprises nerves, ligaments, bones, muscles, and tendons that provide your body the ability to move, support itself, and more. These methods were adapted from thousands of years old techniques and popularized by Daniel David Palmer, the modern-day founder of chiropractic.

A career as a chiropractor means a lot of time on your feet and interacting with dozens of patients over the course of the workday. While some chiropractors may provide home-care or work at night or on weekends to accommodate different kinds of patients, most chiropractors work in an office or clinical setting.

Chiropractors may also choose to specialize in several of the over 100 methods of chiropractic treatment or work within a specific area of chiropractic, such as sports medicine or pediatrics. For those who want to pursue a career dedicated to health and wellness, read our step-by-step guide to becoming a chiropractor below.

Step One: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Optional, Three to Four Years)

After graduating from high school, the first step for any future chiropractor is to earn a bachelor’s degree. Interested students should try to take at least 24 semester-credits of coursework in life and physical sciences. Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) programs also value a well-rounded education that includes social and behavioral sciences, communications, and the humanities. While there are a number of majors that those interested in chiropractic can pursue, common majors include:

  • Human biology
  • Kinesiology
  • Exercise science

While admissions requirements are different across schools, most schools request a minimum 3.0 GPA, SAT and/or ACT scores, resume, personal statement, and at least several references.

The Arizona State University School of Life Sciences offers a bachelor’s degree in biological science. This hybrid program offers online classes with on-campus and virtual lab components developed through an innovative partnership with Google and Labster. Coursework includes chemistry, biochemistry, math, and physics. The program is intended to provide a broad science education that can readily translate to a graduate medical or biology program. This 120-semester credit program generally takes four years to complete.

Seattle University has an on-campus sports and exercise science program where students can earn a bachelor’s degree that prepares them for future employment in community, clinical, industry, and medical settings. Known for their nationally recognized Human Performance Lab and robust internship program, this 180-quarter-credit program requires students to take classes in exercise physiology, biomechanics, and exercise psychology. This program typically takes four years to complete.

While most programs will accept students with three years of undergraduate coursework, it is wise to earn a bachelor’s degree prior to applying to a DC program in anticipation of state licensing requirements. Many states will only consider those with a bachelor’s degree and a DC degree for licensure. There are programs that offer concurrent degrees that permit students to pursue a bachelors and DC degree simultaneously. There is more information on those types of programs in the following step.

Step Two: Earn a Doctor of Chiropractic Degree (Three to Four Years)

Each state requires chiropractors to obtain a Doctor of Chiropractic (DC) degree prior to applying for licensure. Currently, there are 16 accredited DC programs across 19 locations in the United States. Considering the hands-on nature of the profession, there are no accredited programs delivered fully or partially online.

Admission requirements typically include a minimum 3.0 cumulative GPA, an official transcript, a favorable background check, and at least 24 semester-credits of coursework in life and physical sciences. Many DC programs also value a well-rounded undergraduate course load that includes past coursework in communications, social and behavioral sciences, and the humanities.

For those applying to a DC program with only three years of undergraduate coursework completed, there are a number of concurrent degree options available that allow students to obtain a bachelors and DC degree. It is highly recommended to earn a bachelor’s degree in addition to the required DC degree in case state licensure boards require both.

Palmer College of Chiropractic offers a hands-on, affordable DC program with locations in Iowa, Florida, and California. This program is the oldest in the country and blends theory with hands-on practice and clinical experience. They also provide a concurrent bachelor of science in human biology for students who wish to simultaneously pursue BS/DC degrees. The ten-trimester program generally takes three years and three months to complete.

Cleveland University – Kansas City – College of Chiropractic provides a DC program that emphasizes natural healing and the impacts of spinal function on overall health and the nervous system. They also offer a concurrent degree where students can work to obtain a bachelor’s of science in human biology and a DC degree. With classes including anatomy, nutrition, physiology, biology, and public health, students can complete this holistic degree program in three years and three months.

The National University of Health Sciences College of Professional Studies is the only accredited program of this group to require a bachelor’s degree for admission and offers a DC degree at both their Florida and Illinois campuses. This rigorous program emphasizes clinical education, providing a full year of clinical experience at their Whole Health Centers. This full-time program is three years and three months long and also provides degrees in naturopathic medicine, acupuncture, and oriental medicine.

Step Three: Get Licensed as a Chiropractor (Timeline Varies)

Licensure requirements differ by state, but all states require passage of the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners (NBCE) exam. This exam includes four parts that tests applicants on the following:

  • Part I: Basic Science
  • Part II: Clinical Science
  • Part III: Clinical Areas
  • Part IV: Practical Skills

There are also optional elective exams in physiotherapy and acupuncture. Applicants can begin taking parts of the exam as early as their second year in school. Eligibility to sit for the exam is approved by an accredited chiropractic college. Those who already graduated from an accredited chiropractic college are eligible to take the exam at any time. However, the exam must be taken at an eligible chiropractic college testing site.

The exam fee for Parts I – III is $685, while Part IV is $1535. The NBCE offers sample tests for each section for $15 each. Those pursuing licensure should check for additional requirements with the licensing board for the state they want to practice in. Some states may require additional exams, such as a jurisprudence exam that tests applicants on their knowledge of state laws and regulations.

Step Four: Maintain Licensure (Timeline Varies)

Each state has different requirements for license renewal. However, most states require licensed chiropractors to stay current on new methods, best practices, and state and federal laws by taking continuing education courses.

To ensure that license renewal goes smoothly, stay on top of continuing education and any additional state-specific requirements. For example, some states may require licensed chiropractors to demonstrate at least 24 hours of continuing education every year, while others may require demonstration of 60 hours over two years.

Step Five: Attend a Residency Program (One Year)

There are five residency programs accredited by the Council on Chiropractic Education (CCE) that provide licensed chiropractors the opportunity to gain postgraduate clinical experience in an integrative healthcare setting. These full-time, year long programs are offered and operated by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) at the following hospitals:

  • Canandaigua VA Medical Center Chiropractic Residency Program
  • VA Connecticut Health Care System Chiropractic Residency Program
  • VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System Chiropractic Residency Program
  • VA St. Louis Health Care System Chiropractic Residency Program
  • VA Western New York Healthcare System Chiropractic Residency Program

With a focus on collaboration, these residencies pair chiropractors with primary and specialty care doctors and provide in-depth experience in complex case management and hospital practice. Notably, residents are also mentored by a senior VA chiropractor and given the opportunity to learn from national experts in chiropractic treatment.

Those interested in applying must have completed Parts I – III of the NBCE exam with the ability to complete Part IV and submit scores as soon as possible. They must also be licensed to practice within a state, commonwealth, or territory of the United States or the District of Columbia. Additional requirements include a minimum cumulative GPA of at least 3.0 or higher, curriculum vitae (CV), three professional references from chiropractors and/or medical physicians, and proof of citizenship in the United States.

Step Six: Get Certified as a Specialist (Optional, Timeline Varies)

After gaining experience and learning more about where they want to focus, many chiropractors go on to choose a specialty. Getting certified as a specialist can provide chiropractors with a deeper knowledge and understanding of key areas. The American Board of Chiropractic Specialities (ABCS) coordinates the boards and councils that certify specialties and are accredited by the American Chiropractic Association (ABA). Requirements vary from program to program and may take anywhere from 150 hours to 300 hours of work experience, as well as passing an exam.

With over ten specialties to choose from, chiropractors can choose any of the accredited options below:

  • Radiology
  • Rehabilitation
  • Nutrition
  • Clinical Nutrition
  • Internal Disorders
  • Neuromusculoskeletal Medicine
  • Neurology
  • Forensics
  • Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness
  • Occupational Health
  • Pediatrics
  • Acupuncture

Each state has different certification requirements, so chiropractors should check with the licensing board for the state they practice in. Certified specialization may also come with additional continuing education requirements, depending on the state.

Helpful Resources for Chiropractors

Interested in learning more about chiropractic? The professional associations and resources below provide a deep dive into the world of chiropractic. These resources can help any future or current chiropractor stay up-to-date on continuing education, best practices, state and national requirements, and more.

Bree Nicolello

Bree Nicolello


Bree is an urban planner and freelance writer based in Seattle, WA. She has worked on land use and housing policy issues throughout the Pacific Northwest. She previously led Run Oregon Run, a nonprofit dedicated to helping Oregonians run for office and apply to boards and commissions. When not writing, she is lovingly tending to her cast iron pans.

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