You like people and are a hands-on type of person. These characteristics can be put to good use in a career as a chiropractor or a physical therapist. Both professionals use techniques such as massage, physical alignment and exercise to help people with musculoskeletal problems move more easily and experience less pain. Similarities and differences exist between the two professions.
Whether you choose to become a chiropractor or a physical therapist, you’ll need to plan on an extended period of hitting the books. A chiropractor must have at least three years of undergraduate education to enter a doctor of chiropractic (DC) program, although a baccalaureate is not necessarily required. DC programs generally take about three years to complete. Although some physical therapy programs award a master’s in physical therapy, most award a doctorate. You’ll need to have a bachelor’s degree to get into a physical therapy program and can expect to spend an additional five to six years in school. You may also want to take advantage of a residency program, which can last an additional nine months to three years.
Licensing and Certification
Each state regulates the practice of both chiropractic and physical therapy, but all states require that you have a license to practice. To become a chiropractor, you must have graduated from an accredited school. You need to pass a licensing exam that may be a state exam or one administered by the National Board of Chiropractic Examiners. Some states require both exams. Physical therapy licensing requirements are similar in that you must pass either a state exam or the National Physical Therapy Examination. You may also need to complete a certain number of continuing education credits to maintain your license. A physical therapist also has the option of becoming board-certified.
Chiropractors and physical therapists perform many of the same daily tasks. Both perform patient assessments, analyze a patient’s posture, gait and body movements. Either might use massage or muscle stretching. Each develops an individualized treatment plan based on the information gained from examining and talking to the patient. A physical therapist could develop a treatment based on a physician’s orders, while the chiropractor develops a plan independently. The biggest difference between the two professionals is that chiropractors manipulate the spine and other joints with their hands or tools to promote better alignment and relieve pain.
Work Settings and Salaries
Both chiropractors and physical therapists can be small business owners with a private practice and could also work in hospitals, clinics or nursing homes. The differences in work settings can affect income. Chiropractors in private practice earned an average annual income of $87,190 in 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), while those who worked in hospitals earned $64,520. Home health was the best-paying venue for physical therapists, according to the BLS, with an average annual salary of $89,150 in 2011. Geographic location can also be a factor. In Alaska, the average annual salary for chiropractors in 2011 was $177,710. The best-paying state for physical therapists in 2011 was Nevada, with an average annual wage of $97,810, notes the BLS.
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.