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Are Chiropractors Really Doctors?

Updated: Jul 18, 2022

Being called doctor is very important to a chiropractor. During my first few years in practice it irked me when I was addressed as mister instead of doctor. Once when I made a bank deposit at the drive-up window, the teller addressed me as Mr. Burke. I responded with annoyance, “Call me Michael or call me Dr. Burke, but don’t call me mister.” Clearly, the DC credential after my name did not elicit the respect I thought I deserved. Eventually I grew up and got over it. Years later I was checking into a hotel where I was to give a presentation to a group of insurance lawyers. My co-presenter, a neurologist, was at the registration desk with me. When the clerk addressed him as mister, not doctor, he displayed not a hint of concern. (1)

The doctor moniker can also be of momentous import to a chiropractor’s parents. My mother wasn’t sure what to make of my DC credential, but she wanted nachas (2) above all, so she would introduce me as “my son, the doctor.” Really! Not my son the chiropractor. She emphasized the D and downplayed the C. I always felt embarrassed when she did this, so I made sure to add that I was a chiropractor, a sort of anti-climax, but it also made me happy to know that I had given her reason to be pleased.

In the United States, chiropractors—Doctors of Chiropractic—are officially doctors because, since 1974, the US Department of Education has recognized the Council on Chiropractic Education as the accrediting agency for educational programs leading to the DC degree. (3) The US Department of Education considers the DC degree to be a professional doctorate, as opposed to a research doctorate such as a Ph.D. Professional doctorates used to be called first professional degrees. In addition to the DC degree, professional doctorates include medical doctors, podiatrists, psychologists, and naturopaths, among others.

Chiropractors like to be called doctor so much that they put the label before and after their names. The term doctor doctor is not part of the chiropractic lexicon, but I have applied it to any chiropractor who precedes her name with the title doctor and follows her name with her degree, i.e., Dr. Jennifer Smith, DC. As the degree DC contains the abbreviation for doctor it is redundant to prefix one’s name with the same title. Medical doctors don’t often adopt this silly affectation. In the case of chiropractors, however, the degree DC is far less commonly understood by the public than the MD degree. I doubt medical doctors stay awake at night worrying that they will be confused with the state of Maryland. But the DC degree is subject to greater misunderstanding. Not only does the District of Columbia border Maryland to the south, DC is also the abbreviation for direct current. Among the 271 terms listed by the Free Dictionary which may be abbreviated DC (4), some common or interesting ones are Disney Channel, death certificate, Diet Coke, and disciples of Christ. Maybe some musically-trained chiropractors are worried that their doctor degree abbreviation will be confused with the musical term D.C., which stands for da capo, or repeat from the beginning. This could actually be an appropriate alternative meaning for the DC degree since so many chiropractors provide virtually unending care.

In addition to the doctor title, chiropractors often use various accoutrements to enhance their image as respected professionals. On clinic websites it is common to see chiropractors in white coats or jackets. One office in my area featured a large billboard facing a busy street on which the staff members were depicted wearing white coats. In addition, the chiropractors wore stethoscopes draped around their necks. (See Fig. 1.) White jackets for interns and white coats for supervising doctors were required in the chiropractic college clinics where I taught, but the garb can be a hindrance to the delivery of chiropractic adjustments, which routinely calls for some degree of contortion on the part of the chiropractor as well as the patient. And stethoscopes? A chiropractor might employ a stethoscope in an examination of a new patient, but it is used only rarely at a routine treatment visit. Unlike a medical doctor, there is little need for a chiropractor to keep a stethoscope so close at hand.

Fig. 1. Chiropractors in white coats with stethoscopes. (The photo has been altered slightly to conceal the identities of the doctors and clinic staff.)

I wore a white coat in my first year in private practice to convince people I was a doctor, and perhaps to reassure myself that I was. Sometimes I visited the pharmacy across the street from my office, and I egotistically took to wearing my clinic coat to the pharmacy. On the way back to my office I walked by a gas station where I sometimes stopped to chat with the manager. On one occasion, as I stood outside the filling station’s office, a car drove up, the driver rolled down his window, and asked me to check the oil. Mortified, I did not wear a white coat again until my position at the college teaching clinic required it.


1. The Oregon Doctors’ Title Act requires anyone using the title doctor in front of his name to identify the type of credential held. In the case of a chiropractor, one must either use DC after the name or else state the profession as chiropractor or chiropractic physician. back

2. Yiddish for the pride or joy a parent derives from a child’s accomplishments. back

3. Accrediting Agencies and Associations Recognized by the Secretary, U.S. Department of Education [Internet]. US Department of Education; [cited 2020 Sep 21]. Available from: back

4. DC. In: The Free Dictionary [Internet]. [cited 2020 Jun 14]. Available from: Accessed June 14, 2020. back


About J. Michael Burke, D.C.

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During 45 years of diverse experience as a chiropractor, I have witnessed and documented many facets of the profession and the follies of many chiropractors, myself included. My involvement in various activities and endeavors has ranged from cracking necks and backs to developing a managed alternative healthcare network to investigating fraud.

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