Chiropractic Vs. Medical Doctor Education


Chiropractors can be forgiven for feeling a bit put upon, considering the unfavorable comparisons that are sometimes made between their educational backgrounds and those of medical doctors. A close examination of the facts, however, reveals that the distinctions---and there certainly are some---are not quite as great as many people suppose.

A Doctor in Two Different Worlds

  • Dr. Ralph Gay, who is both a medical doctor and a chiropractor, is in a unique position to offer insights on the distinctions between the educational standards of these two medical disciplines. Interviewed by Julie Deardorff for her health blog on, Dr. Gay, who is the director of the Mayo Clinic's Spine Biomechanics Research Group, has countered suggestions that chiropractic education is inherently inferior to that provided a medical doctor.

    He said, "Chiropractic has a highly developed educational system that is regulated and standardized to a great degree. Although some portions of a curriculum may lack rigor, most are of good quality."

Admission Requirements

  • The requirements for admission to schools of medicine and chiropractic colleges are both set fairly high. Both require several years of college education and specify certain courses that are prerequisites for admission. While medical schools require prospective students take the Medical College Admission Test, this usually is not required for admission to chiropractic colleges.

    The Grisanti Report website, maintained by chiropractor Dr. Ron Grisanti, points out that the prerequisites of Parker College of Chiropractic in Dallas are as rigorous, if not slightly more demanding, as those set by the medical schools at Harvard and Stanford universities. While all three schools require at least a year of study in biology, physics, general chemistry and organic chemistry, Parker requires at least a year of study in English or communicative skills, a half-year of psychology and at least 22.5 quarter hours in the humanities and/or social sciences.

Side-by-Side Comparison

  • In a side-by-side comparison of the hours of study required for a degree as a medical doctor and a doctor of chiropractic, the American Chiropractic Association contends that the latter is bit more demanding than the former. While students for a medical degree spend an average of 4,670 hours in classroom and clinical study, candidates for a chiropractic degree average 4,820 hours.

MDs Get More Clinical Preparation

  • Dr. Gay contends that the weakest aspect of chiropractic education is in "the clinical, post-doctoral period," which makes no provision for an internship and residency as is required of all medical doctors.

Changing AMA Attitudes

  • The American Medical Association (AMA), the professional organization representing U.S. medical doctors, for years dismissed chiropractic as quackery. The organization's official position has changed considerably over the years, particularly since the AMA lost a suit brought by a small group of chiropractors.

    Today, AMA's code of medical ethics permits "a physician to associate professionally with chiropractors provided that the physician believes that such association is in the best interests of his or her patient." This allows medical doctors to refer their patients to chiropractors when they deem it appropriate.

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  • Photo Credit "Online" is Copyrighted by Flickr user: JakoJellema ( (Jako Jellema) under the Creative Commons Attribution license.
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