If you want to help improve the quality of people's lives, have excellent communication and coordination skills and a good head for business, a career as a chiropractor could be for you

As a chiropractor you'll use physical manipulation, massage and rehabilitative exercise to treat patients with a range of conditions, often related to the spine, including:

  • arthritic pain
  • back, shoulder and neck pain
  • joint stiffness, pain and discomfort
  • muscular aches
  • sports injuries.

Using your hands to apply a specific force to free joints in the spine (or other joints of the body that aren't moving properly) your aim is to relieve pain, increase mobility and to get patients back to full health and movement.

You'll take a holistic approach to treating patients, looking at the underlying causes of their illness and not just the symptoms. Treatment is designed to encourage the body's natural healing process and doesn't include surgery or drugs.

Responsibilities

As a chiropractor, you'll need to:

  • take detailed medical histories from your patients, including information on previous injuries, surgery, general health and lifestyle
  • conduct physical examinations, focusing on the spine and posture, and noting the range of movement
  • take and interpret x-rays, if necessary
  • check blood pressure and perform other medical tests if necessary
  • make a diagnosis and explain it to your patient
  • establish an appropriate treatment or management plan with your patient
  • perform adjustments of the joints of the spine and extremities using your hands or specialist equipment
  • perform soft tissue therapies, such as massage
  • educate and advise patients on rehabilitation exercises to aid long-term recovery and techniques to ensure health is maintained
  • keep accurate and confidential clinical records
  • liaise with other healthcare practitioners and refer patients requiring other medical attention.

As most chiropractors are self-employed, you'll also need to carry out activities related to running a business.

Salary

  • Starting salaries are around £30,000. With experience this can rise to £50,000.
  • Chiropractic clinics generally charge patients between £30 and £50 per session. Fees charged will vary depending on your location and the length of the session.
  • Financial rewards can be good, and if you have the right combination of skills and experience and own a large practice employing others, you may be able to earn between £80,000 and £100,000 after several years.

Your salary will depend on a range of factors including the size and location of the practice, the number of chiropractors, the number of patients and the length of time the practice has been established. Salaries may also be affected by any links you have with GP practices and other healthcare professionals, as this may increase your client base.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Your working hours will reflect your clients' needs and many practices open early in the morning, in the evening and at weekends.

The majority of chiropractors are self-employed, allowing you flexibility on the hours you work. Part-time work is possible.

What to expect

  • You may work alone, with other chiropractors in group practices, or alongside related practitioners such as physiotherapists or massage therapists.
  • Opportunities exist throughout the UK, with practices in both urban and rural areas. You can also work from home.
  • The work is both physically and mentally demanding, but also rewarding.
  • Regulation of the profession includes a strong code of ethics. Confidentiality and discretion are important.
  • Some chiropractors work at several practices, so you may need to travel between practices. There may be opportunities to work abroad as the majority of UK chiropractic qualifications are recognised overseas.

Qualifications

To practise as a chiropractor you must be registered with the General Chiropractic Council (GCC), the statutory body responsible for regulating the chiropractic profession in the UK.

To be eligible to register, you must successfully complete a GCC-recognised degree from one of the three following institutions:

Courses offer practical training in adjustment and supervised clinical training, enabling you to both understand the systems and workings of the human body, and assess and diagnose patients. You'll also gain skills in research methods, how to run a business, and professional and ethical practice.

Entry requirements vary but include GCSEs in maths and English and three A-levels, two of which are typically in sciences, particularly biology or biological sciences, or a relevant higher qualification. Contact the individual institutions for details.

Some colleges provide one-year foundation programmes for applicants without the necessary skills and qualifications to get on to the MChiro. Successful completion of the foundation year provides a route for entry to the degree qualification.

To register with the GCC, you'll also need to:

  • declare any criminal convictions or cautions
  • provide a report from your doctor confirming you are in good health, mentally and physically
  • provide proof of professional indemnity insurance
  • provide a character reference.

For full details, see the GCC.

Skills

You'll need to have:

  • the ability to cope with the intellectual and physical demands of the training and the profession
  • good communication and interpersonal skills
  • coordination skills
  • the ability to show empathy and work sensitively with a range of patients
  • an enquiring and critical mind
  • strong observational skills, a logical approach and the ability to problem solve in order to diagnose effectively
  • initiative, independence and business awareness.

A driving licence is also useful for travel between practices.

Work experience

To get on to a course, you may be expected to have some experience of a chiropractic treatment - either having one yourself or observing a chiropractor in clinical practice. To find a chiropractor near you, search the GCC Register.

Employers

You'll usually work in private practice, which may mean working from home or, more often, in an established private chiropractic clinic. You may work across more than one clinic.

The use of chiropractic in the NHS is limited but there may be some opportunities for contract work with trusts of the NHS. For more details see NHS - Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

GP practices are able to commission healthcare services directly and close working relationships with GPs may lead to contractual provision of chiropractic care to NHS patients.

If you don't want to be self-employed, employed associate positions are available at established practices.

Look for associate vacancies and practices to buy/lease at:

Networking, personal contacts and speculative applications are valuable ways of finding out about opportunities. Associate vacancies may also be advertised via the three GCC-approved training institutions.

You can also advertise your own services on the websites of the professional bodies.

Professional development

In order to stay registered with the GCC, you must complete at least 30 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) a year. Half of these hours must include direct interaction with others.

CPD activities can include:

  • attending lectures and seminars
  • taking short courses
  • taking part in practical sessions
  • undertaking individual study
  • assessing patient feedback
  • having structured discussions with colleagues.

More information is available from GCC Continuing Professional Development.

In your first year of practice, you're encouraged to complete the post-registration training (PRT) programme run by the Royal College of Chiropractors. This programme enables newly qualified chiropractors to work in a professional clinical setting with the help and support of a mentor. Once completed, you can gain licentiate membership of the RCC and use the post nominal letters LRCC. You can then take further training to progress to full membership (MRCC) and Fellowship (FRCC).

Specialist Masters-level courses, in subjects such as paediatric and animal chiropractic, and CPD programmes are also available through the three degree course providers. CPD seminars, conferences and professional journals are also available through the four chiropractic associations:

  • British Chiropractic Association (BCA)
  • McTimoney Chiropractic Association (MCA)
  • Scottish Chiropractic Association (SCA)
  • United Chiropractic Association (UCA).

They also provide advice on marketing and running a business.

Career prospects

Many newly qualified chiropractors begin their career working for another chiropractor in private practice as an associate. However, with some experience and a potential client base established, there are many opportunities to set up your own practice within the early stages of your career. You can also work in partnership with other chiropractors or health professionals.

In order to create a successful practice, you need to build up a good reputation, which will lead to an increased client base. Marketing your business is important, and networking with other practitioners and complementary therapists may help.

Some chiropractors work in a group practice, while others may work in a more diverse clinic with other healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists, acupuncturists and massage therapists. There may also be some opportunities for NHS commissioning, franchising and locum work.

Once established, you may develop specialist interests or work with specific patient groups in areas such as:

  • animal care
  • diagnostic imaging
  • orthopaedics and rehabilitation
  • paediatrics
  • sports injuries.

Some experienced chiropractors follow an academic career teaching at one of the GCC-approved training institutions. There are also opportunities to go into chiropractic research.