Doctor…What’s in a Name?

In our society the honorary title of Doctor is reserved for those who have completed an accredited program (usually the highest academic degree awarded by a college or university in a specified discipline) and is awarded a Doctorate. Those who earn a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) may also rightfully don the title of Doctor. However, a PhD is not the same as a Doctorate and can be earned in many generic fields (economics, theology, etc.) generally by those who are more interested in the fields of research and education, rather than serving patients.

More often than not though, when we use the term “Doctor” in casual conversation, the majority of us are generally referring to a General Practitioner, Internist, Surgeon, etc. When someone asks, “Did you go to the Doctor,” whether right or wrong it is commonly assumed we are talking about the GP or Internist who diagnoses and prescribes. When referring to other specialized healthcare fields that have also earned the right to be called Doctor, we more commonly call them by their specialized name, such as Dentist, Chiropractor, Physical Therapist, etc.

There is a line in a movie where one character refers to himself as “Doctor so and so” and his friend chimes in to not be fooled, “he’s actually a Dentist not a real Doctor.” This always has made laugh but having graduated with a Doctorate of Chiropractic (D.C.), it has also made me look deeper into the difference between your traditional M.D. and D.C. Both are referred to as Doctors but outside of their methods of practice, what makes them different? Why is there a common perception that one is superior to the other?

I, like most Americans, assumed that M.D.s must go through more training and education than their Chiropractic counterparts. What I found was both surprising and pleasing, and I have provided you with some of it below.

“A recent study described U.S. chiropractic curricula as an average of 4820 classroom and clinical hours, with about 30% spent in the basic sciences and 70% in clinical sciences and internship. Medical school curricula average about 4670 hours with a similar breakdown. Compared with medical students, chiropractic students spend more hours in anatomy and physiology but fewer in public health. Both programs have similar hours in biochemistry, microbiology, and pathology. Chiropractic curricula provide relatively little instruction in pharmacology, critical care, and surgery but emphasize biomechanics, musculoskeletal function, and manual treatment methods. Medical education has 1000 fewer hours in didactic and workshop-like clinical courses. All chiropractic colleges maintain busy training clinics that deliver chiropractic care in settings similar to typical chiropractic practice. Specialty training is available in 2- to 3-year postgraduate residency programs in radiology, orthopedics, neurology, sports, rehabilitation, and pediatrics. Coursework leads to eligibility for accredited specialty board competency examinations, which confer “diplomate” or “certified” status.

Forty-six states (including Florida) either recognize or require passage of examinations (4 parts) administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners in the areas of basic science, clinical science, and clinical competency before granting a graduate a license to practice. Most states (including Florida) also require annual proof of continuing education credits (40 hours every two years) for ongoing license renewal.”

So what does this tell us? Well, education wise we are looking at two healthcare providers who put in similar work to attain the privilege that comes with being a Doctor. One puts more emphasis on anatomy, physiology, biomechanics, and manual treatment methods, while the other spends more time focusing on pharmacology, critical care and surgery. Make no mistake; there is a definite need for both in today’s world. However, did you know that either may be hired as your primary care physician?

There are many Chiropractors out there who have made the effort to go beyond the traditional education, utilizing the title of Chiropractor as a vehicle to deliver what is currently considered “alternative” care. Possessing the skill to exercise natural remedies first when applicable and the know how to refer out when necessary.

Open your mind to the world of holistic medicine and to the concept that a Chiropractor, particularly one trained in functional medicine, can go beyond addressing your common back and neck pain. Speak up about all issues even if they seem unrelated. As we know when it comes to our bodies, everything is connected and you may be pleasantly surprised with the results attained through natural methods. On a larger scale, you can play an active role in contributing to the movement of converting these natural delivery systems from alternative to preferred, and maybe one day to the new traditional.


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