Although you probably won’t hear them break out in a chorus of “Dem Bones,” both chiropractors and orthopedists understand very well that the “ankle bone’s connected to the leg bone.” Orthopedists and chiropractors deal with the human musculoskeletal system. Orthopedists are also known as orthopods or orthopedic surgeons. Although both are doctors, they are educated differently and perform different tasks.
A chiropractor is a Doctor of Chiropractic, or D.C., but not a medical doctor. To become a chiropractor, you will need to start with either a bachelor’s degree or at least 90 semester hours of undergraduate education. Next step, a Doctor of Chiropractic degree, which takes four years. You’ll study anatomy -- of course -- but also physiology, physics, chemistry, biology, spinal manipulation and diagnosis. Some chiropractors may also take specialty training in chiropractic radiology, nutrition or sports rehabilitation. A major component of chiropractic training is supervised clinical experience for those hands-on lessons.
An orthopedist is a medical doctor. You guessed it -- four years of college, four years of medical school and at least four years of residency. Some orthopedic programs require the aspiring bone doctor to become a general surgeon first and then learn orthopedic techniques. Like other doctors, orthopedists study anatomy, physiology, diseases of the human body and pharmacology. They may also extend their educations with a fellowship to gain additional training and experience.
Exams and Licensing
Chiropractors must pass special exams to become licensed. Some states have their own exams, but many require tests administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. A chiropractor must also demonstrate skills in spinal manipulation and other chiropractic techniques as part of the exam. Orthopedists become licensed as doctors once they complete their first year of residency training, but most choose to become board certified in orthopedics, which means another exam after they finish residency. Most states require chiropractors and orthopedists to complete continuing education on a regular basis to remain licensed or certified.
Surgery, Medications and Income
Other than education and income, the biggest difference between chiropractors and orthopedists is that orthopedists are surgeons. A chiropractor might adjust a spine to improve the alignment, but an orthopedist can surgically repair a broken ankle or place metal hardware in the spine to stabilize it. Orthopedists also provide medical management of bone and joint problems and may prescribe medications. Although chiropractors may recommend supplements or sell supplements such as calcium, they cannot prescribe medications. When it comes to income, orthopedists are well ahead, with an average annual income of $501,808 in 2011, according to the American Medical Group Management Association. Chiropractors earned $78,780 in 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
- Songs for Teaching: Dem Bones
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Chiropractors
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: May 2011 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Medicine: Career in Orthopaedics
- American Medical Group Management Association: 2011 Medical Group Compensation and Financial Survey
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.