Medical Doctor vs. Doctor of Chiropractic
Are Chiropractors Really Doctors?
Doctors are healthcare professionals that have undergone sufficient, accredited schooling and gained an understanding of the human body, especially as it relates to their specific field of study. This gives them the right to practice within a specified scope – defined by the state – and prevents random people from claiming to be doctors.
But more than labeling, a doctor is someone who places the health of the patient at the forefront. Those able to guide someone from a state of disease or sickness, to a state of well-being and resilience. This inborn, self-regulating capacity, most appropriately referred to as homeostasis, is the primary drive that all living organisms demonstrate and is continually at play. It’s what allows us to respond to both our internal and external environment and adapt accordingly. Doctors are in the greatest position to influence or guide those who may need help in re-establishing homeostasis. Only once this is achieved can true healing take place.
Chiropractors go through extensive schooling, very comparable to medical school in number of hours and courses. They spend several years studying human anatomy and physiology, working on cadavers to gain further insight. The one major differentiating educational factor between DCs and MDs is the residency period. Chiropractors receive hands-on, practical training for a solid year but not to the extent of medical doctors – who go on for an additional 2 to 5 years of residency in their specified field. Additionally, MD students have access to entire hospitals and group settings during their residency, with much more resources and collaboration, compared to the smaller privately owned DC practice that may vary drastically from any one office – making each residency for a DC unique in some regard. This is starting to progress though, and we are seeing chiropractors become more active in various settings, such as hospitals, allowing students further access and exposure.
Chiropractors are trained and educated on the importance of the whole, the system working together for a greater purpose; that everything is interconnected and can influence or exert changes elsewhere in the body. They fully understand that health comes from within and, if we work alongside the laws of nature (time-tested, evolutionary principles), we will experience greater health. This largely comes down to the human frame and diet, and chiropractors are perfectly positioned to treat and influence both tremendously. They are experts at assessing and manually treating the neuromusculoskeletal system, one of the greatest causes of persistent pain and regular complaints. Being a doctor – they listen, assess/analyze, diagnose, determine an appropriate treatment plan, treat, reassess, and then depending on outcome, continue treating or refer out. As Thomas Edison is often quoted, “The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patient in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease.” This is the most practical treatment approach for our current epidemic of chronic disease, but is often the hardest to adopt. It is much easier to swallow a pill than resist addictive, sugary foods on a consistent basis or form the right habits.
MDs, on the other hand, are largely trained to view the body as a mechanistic system made up of individual parts that operate in a certain manner and if any of these parts fail, therein lies the problem. They place more emphasis on disease and how to eradicate it. They are experts at treating and managing disease, especially in the short-term, but are less equipped at making longer lasting changes aligned with normal healing principles, which involves time spent with patients getting them to take an active role in their health and outcomes, rather than being passive and reliant.
There has been unprecedented breakthroughs in modern medicine and healthcare, yet we are still experiencing an ever-increasing percentage of chronic disease or “diseases of affluence” (diabetes, obesity, heart disease, hypertension, asthma, allergies, cancer). We are also spending outrageous amounts of money on managing these diseases. The problem therein lies in managing, rather than correcting or preventing. This is comparable to a person, unbeknownst to them, sleeping in a lush bed of poison ivy. Rather than managing the poisonous skin rash that keeps appearing by applying ointment or taking steroids, in hopes it will feel better or go unnoticed so they can go about their day, wouldn’t it make more sense to identify the cause of the rash and remove or fix it. Now this is a bit exaggerated but for the sake of simplicity easily understood.
Comparably, many of the diseases we are managing are the result of doing things for the right reason with the wrong approach. We know what is considered biologically or biochemically “normal” - a set of parameters to fall within. If a measurement falls outside the normal spectrum, we have a way (i.e., pharmaceutical drugs) to bring it back in (up- or down- regulate). If we fall within normal parameters we are considered “healthy and normal,” as “numbers don’t lie.”
All of this is an amazing thing to have access to. To micro-manage and control targeted receptors. To influence physiology rapidly and effectively. But, again, it comes back to managing versus correcting. We can manage all day long and keep people surviving (not thriving) but the costs are much greater (financially, socially, and individually). At times, management is the best possible thing to do – think of a stroke patient or traumatic car accident. We aren’t going to say, “what is the cause of this and how can we correct the root problem!” Though, that will come later once the patient is managed appropriately and stabilized, are greatest concern is immediate well-being and living.
An actual case of managing versus correcting, compared to our poison ivy analogy, is a person that has high cholesterol. They get their results back and are told it is way higher than normal. The most rational solution is to get that number back down (and this is arguably the best short-term solution, especially for those at risk of cardiovascular-disease), but to prescribe a cholesterol-lowering medication with no end date in mind and no explanation as to why the cholesterol is high, besides maybe a brief, “Eat better and exercise more,” or actual steps to take for long-term improvement, is borderline neglect. Clearly this is a generalization and not all MDs practice this way, but by and large it has been established as the standard of care for those with hypercholesterolemia and any other abnormally measured value. Amazingly, our culture views cholesterol as villainous and detrimental to our health, but this couldn’t be further from the truth (we’ll save the cholesterol talk for another post).
Medical doctors are astounding and have been able to mask the negative repercussions of a system set up for failure – namely caused by the food industry and widely accessible junk food that dominates our society (just look at most grocery aisles and carts passing by). The increase in chronic disease coincides with the rise of agriculture and processed foods – foods that weren’t around just 100 years ago. In the grand scheme of things, 100 years is infinitesimal, yet we have undergone such dramatic change in such a short period that we haven’t been able to adapt. Well that’s not entirely true. We have adapted, as the human body is so capable of (truly one of the most amazing feats to witness and experience), we’ve just learned that there are side effects, both felt and seen, that go along with it.
In summary, there needs to be some major cultural shifts in the way we view our health and how we go about seeking care. There needs to be some major educational awareness and implementation concerning diet and movement. Much of this needs to be targeted toward the upcoming generations who are the future of the world we build. We should also start to distinguish between sick-care and health-care, as they are two distinct categories to treat. Moving forward with this new paradigm, we can begin to focus on preventing and correcting the problem, rather than just managing it. We can place patient’s in the right step of the healing process (i.e. What phase of treatment is necessary right now?)
Chiropractors are in the perfect position to educate and help a vast majority of people. They can help people take an active role in their health and give them the tools they need to remain healthy. Families should be seeking wellness care and regular check ups with the chiropractor to assess movement and diet, as well as treatment of minor injuries. Medical Doctors will continue to be the forerunners of emergency and crisis care. We will also begin to see more emphasis placed on integrated health and treating the individual as a whole – rather than through which specialty we have been trained in. This shift will occur in all specialities and serve the individual patient and society as a whole.
So are chiropractors real doctors? The question is arbitrary unless you give it context. If given a choice between seeing a chiropractor or MD, regularly, which would you choose? If you have a bone sticking out of your leg, or are suffering heart failure, which doctor would you rather see? If you have chronic neck and back complaints or have difficulty performing proper movements (indicated by pain with that movement), which treatment is going to be most effective, taking a prescription for pain or addressing why you have pain and what you can do about it? Context.
Choose the right doctor for the right ailment, but remember, the best doctor lives inside of you and is always at work. Don’t you think you ought to supply it with the right nutrients and building blocks – eat the right foods, move often, and have a positive mindset/outlook – so as to experience your best life. Doctors, of all specialities, do amazing work and aren’t going anywhere, but solely relying on your doctor to dictate how you feel or live is a loser’s game. Use them as needed, but get to the point in which that means infrequently. If you do visit a doctor frequently, aside from necessary ongoing medical treatment, make it a doctor of chiropractic (or similar professional) and experience longer lasting health.