By Dr. Elizabeth Carter

Quite often I am asked about why I wanted to become a chiropractor, how long the schooling process is, and if I had received any chiropractic care growing up, so I thought it was time to write about my journey to becoming a chiropractor.

How long has the chiropractic profession been around?

For those that don’t know, the history of chiropractic began in 1895 by Daniel David Palmer, a Canadian who was born in Ontario and practised in Iowa, USA. That same year, x-rays were discovered by Dr. Wilhelm Röntgen , a professor of physics in Germany. On September 18th, 2022, chiropractic celebrated its 127th birthday!

What made you decide to become a chiropractor?

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to work in health care. When I was in elementary school and spending time with my friends, we used to love making “healing potions” from rocks, sticks, leaves and seasonal berries found in our backyards, and “heal” our stuffed animals from ailments we had diagnosed them with. We were obviously quite good at healing them, as all stuffed animals recovered from their conditions. I also love animals, and was thrilled when my parents got my sister and I two kittens when I was in Grade 4. I thought at that time I was going to become a veterinarian, as I truly enjoyed working with animals….when I thought that being a vet was solely about playing with kittens and puppies, teaching them new tricks, and lots of cuddle time. I was brokenhearted when I learned that there was a lot more that went into being a vet, and decided it wasn’t the right field for me. 

My parents have seen chiropractors throughout their lives, and introduced me to chiropractic care when I was an infant  living in Ajax. In 1994 we moved to Perth (yay). Growing up, I suffered from headaches and migraines and found chiropractic care helped reduce the frequency and intensity of them, along with additional lifestyle recommendations (including learning about my triggers). Throughout my childhood and adolescence, when I experienced a fall or sports related injury, our first call was to see the chiropractor. I chose to be a wellness patient, usually going for monthly maintenance care. In high school, between working at my part time job at Giant Tiger, playing the flute, swimming and studying, it helped manage my aches and pains, and kept me functioning at my best.

In high school I attended PDCI, and became very interested in both science and music classes. I played the flute, and was a member of both the PDCI band and pitt band (for the high school theatre productions put on for the local elementary schools). I was also a member of the Perth Citizens Band, which both helped enhance my technique, and allowed me to share my passion for music with like minded individuals. At one point, I strongly considered pursuing a career in music therapy, as I believe in the power of music and arts not just to entertain society, but as a means to help someone support one’s psychological, emotional, spiritual and physical healing. In the end, I decided to focus more on the sciences, and began exploring the education and roles and responsibilities of being a medical doctor, chiropractor, and anesthesiologist. My passion for closely working with patients of all ages to strive towards and achieve their health goals, interest in working holistically, and my long term positive experience of chiropractic care ultimately won out, and I decided that I was going to become a chiropractor. So, now what?

How long does it take to become a chiropractor?

This is one of my most frequently asked questions! No, despite some misperceptions, we can’t buy our degree online, or start practising right after high school. The educational requirements vary by country, province/state and individual school, so I will focus on the educational requirements required at the time I attended Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College (CMCC). To note, there is only CMCC (located in Toronto, ON) and Universite du Quebec a Trois-Rivieres (located in Quebec; french only program) that one can apply to in Canada in order to study to become a chiropractor. Otherwise, there are numerous programs in the USA or internationally that one can apply to and attend. 

The minimum time it takes to become a chiropractor is 7 years (post high school). However, many individuals choose to complete 4 year undergraduate degrees, as well as obtain a Masters or Ph.D. in a chosen discipline, before attending CMCC. 

To attend CMCC at the time I applied, I needed to complete a personal statement (an essay on why I wanted to become a chiropractor), 3 years of University (in the field of my choice), and then an interview, which was completed on the CMCC campus. You achieved an overall admission score based 50% on your academic grades, and 50% on the in person interview (granted if you met the minimum GPA, grade point average.) I believe in my year just under 200 students were admitted, but often hundreds of students apply, so having a higher overall score is important to be ranked within the year’s class size limit.

What was your educational journey toward becoming a chiropractor? 

From Grade 10-12, when I was sure I knew I wanted to be a chiropractor, I began researching the educational requirements in Ontario. This was due to the fact that everything in education is a stepping stone. In order to get into specific University programs, you need to have taken specific high school courses (and passed with certain grades). In order to be accepted into CMCC, you need to have completed a minimum of 3 years of University, and obtained certain grades. As I was completing the French immersion program from Grade 5 in Stewart School through my high school years at PDCI, I had limited elective opportunities (due to the way the schedules were set), and needed to ensure I was taking the right classes for University programs. 

I focused my high school electives on advanced physics, chemistry, biology and math, so I could apply to more science based University programs. I realized quickly that pursuing a degree in mathematics or physics was not my forte (that is an understatement!), but enjoyed learning about human physiology and chemical reactions. During my time at PDCI, human movement/kinesiology classes were just at their infancy of being offered to senior students (yes, I am dating myself here!), so it was not a course I took. In the end, based on my ever growing interest in learning how the human body works and overall health and wellness, I decided to apply to the Health Sciences and Kinesiology programs at Ontario based Universities. It was important for me to stay in Ontario both to support local programs/economy, but also stay within a reasonable distance to my family. In Grade 12, I was accepted to the Kinesiology program at McMaster University (Mac) in Hamilton, ON. And so began my 7 year journey to become a chiropractor…

As I have mentioned before in previous blogs/posts about my time at Mac, I will keep it brief. I truly enjoyed my studies at McMaster. I had the opportunity to get a really good starting point in understand how the body works, taking courses such as anatomy and physiology, biomechanics, nutrition and exercise, honing my electives on gerontology (the study of ageing) and how our Canadian Health Care System works, as well as more holistic courses looking at lifestyle management and overall health and wellness. 

One stand out phrase that shaped the course of my interest into more holistic health comes from the World Health Organization (W.H.O.). The W.H.O. defines health as a “state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease of infirmity.” Too often we focus solely on the physical well being of an individual, so I strived to take classes that allowed me to gain a more well rounded understanding of what it means to be emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually healthy. 

I had a rare opportunity to gain clinical experience with volunteering at the MacTurtles Program (see last blog for more details) throughout my time at McMaster University. I also worked within the Science Faculty in multiple departments, including assisting students with writing successful resumes and cover letters as well as enhancing their interview skills, and learning about the requirements needed to apply to their post graduate science programs (i.e. getting into medical or dental school). These working opportunities were certainly helpful when it came time for me to apply to CMCC.

During my third year in Kinesiology, I applied to the CMCC program, and was very fortunate to be among the students accepted to the program starting fall of 2010 (member of the Class of 2014). I graduated from McMaster University with a Bachelor of Kinesiology, as I did not stay for the final year to complete the full program, nor did I officially earn my gerontology minor, which I had taken throughout my second and third year at Mac. 

The chiropractic program at CMCC is 4 years. As with any post secondary education program, you have to be committed to lifelong learning, have a passion for the field (as you basically live/breathe learning all that you can about chiropractic), take many written and perform many practical exams over the 4 years. Though I did work a few part time jobs, including tutoring students and working at the library, I certainly admired the students who had full time jobs or had started a family throughout their studies.

The teachings of the first and second year at CMCC laid the foundation of knowledge. This included courses on the human body, general science including anatomy and physiology, introduction to diagnostics such as learning about different health conditions, history and examination taking, and intro to adjusting (the fun part!). I bought my spine model at the campus bookstore that I named “Sally” (she hangs out in my new patient room at TFC), and some of our initial homework was to put a shirt over the spine, and be able to find certain landmarks. I remember thinking in my first few months, how I couldn’t feel anything the teachers described, and I was sure I was going to fail. However, with time, patience and countless hours of practice, your hands slowly begin to be able to feel things like muscle tension, warmth over an inflamed area, and your ability to use your hands to assess and treat grows. Our second year of studies was packed with a lot of courses and exams, to test our ability to process large volumes of information and handle stress. At one point we had 18 exams over a week and a half, but we persevered, and eventually got used to the perpetual exam rhythm.

By year 3 of CMCC, the focus was taking the foundational principles from our first two years and starting to apply your knowledge to a clinical setting. We had courses where we would work through case studies – from what questions to ask patients, to which diagnostic tests we would perform, and if co-management of care (such as with their medical doctor) was required. In our final year, we had a year long internship, based on 2, 6 month rotations, where we completed initial intakes, report of findings, treatments under the supervision of a licensed chiropractor (gained invaluable experience and confidence before “throwing us out into the wild”, as my clinician used to say). Everything we learned those first 3 years was put into practice. In addition, we had evening classes, lab courses (including blood work analysis, interpreting x-rays and writing reports, business courses to name a few), and many year end exams. I also opted to take the Clinical Acupuncture Certificate Program, a 200 hour course which allowed me to use acupuncture as an adjunct to chiropractic care. 

In our final year, we also had to take our board exams, which needed to be passed in order to become a licensed chiropractor in Ontario. We had 3 rounds of board exams throughout the year, spaced a few months apart, to test our knowledge of the material and diagnostic/case management skills learned throughout the CMCC curriculum, as well as pass an ethics exam. I was fortunate to pass, and in June of 2020, I graduated from CMCC along with my friends/colleagues, and became a full fledged doctor of chiropractic. I graduated with academic and clinic honours, and was surprised to become the first female recipient of the collaborative patient care award. I was so excited to walk across the stage, hearing them call my name; my family cheering me on, finally fulfilling my dream that I had for almost half of my life. To date, it is one of my proudest achievements of my life. 

I am so grateful and appreciative of all the supportive, encouragement and motivation my close family and friends showed me from my Mac Kin days right up to opening TFC. 

8 years later I can still say that it is truly an honour and a privilege to be able to do what I love every day, working with my patients and the Lanark community as a licensed chiropractor. 

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