During my junior year of undergrad at the University of Arkansas, I was still pretty much in the dark about what I wanted to do with my life and what I would do once I finished my 4 years of biology studies. I knew I loved the human body, was interested in some kind of medicine, and loved to work out, play sports, and talk with people. One day my fiancé (now wife) suggested trying physical therapy. I felt as though a light had turned on in my head. I got really excited because I felt like it fit me so well. and I finally had a career path! I contacted a couple of PTs in the area, shadowed them in their outpatient setting a few times, and loved what I saw.
One of the first PT schools I looked into was KU Med in Kansas City. My wife and I have always like KC, and her dream job was in KC, so I set up a tour. I drove to KC and toured the campus and got really excited until we talked about the nitty gritty (aka grades/scores). My overall grade point average at the time was a bumping 3.1, and the advisor essentially told me I had no chance. He said that the average PT student at KU had a 3.8 and that was pretty much the case for PT schools overall. I was crushed. I went home and visited with another PT with whom I had already set up an opportunity before “the news.” It turned out that his clinic also had a chiropractor.
Intrigued with what the chiropractor did, I spent most of the time with him. At the time I knew little to nothing about treatment philosophy of PTs or chiropractor I just saw them working together in a cool environment and I got fired up. I immediately started networking (as I love to do), meeting chiros and learning. I loved it; I thought that I could essentially be a physical therapist vicariously through chiropractic. I decided to not even apply for PT school to save myself the hassle and shame of being rejected. I just applied to Cleveland Chiropractic College in Kansas City and Logan Chiropractic College in St. Louis. Both made me feel really special, sending me things constantly and offering me scholarships and putting me in contact with the president of the school. I felt like a celebrity. I got into both, and my wife and I decided to move to Kansas City, so I chose Cleveland. Super-excited to start my new journey I waited for school not questioning for a second my decision.
When September rolled around, we had orientation and began classes. At first it seemed great. I made a couple of good friends, and the curriculum seemed decent. However, it didn’t take long for that to change.
Over the first few days of school I struggled to find a philosophical niche to root myself in. There is a WIDE spectrum of philosophies in chiropractic about how to treat patients. On one side of the spectrum are the conservative or “straight” chiropractors. This “team” essentially believes in the roots of what chiropractic was formed on, the subluxation theory. This theory essentially states that every ailment of the body (cold, stomach pain, allergies, back pain, deafness) can be cured by the proper alignment of the spine, thus spinal manipulations or “back cracking” can literally fix any problem. The other side of the spectrum is called “mixed” or “mixer” chiropractic. This group includes other types of treatments such as acupuncture, laser therapy, muscle testing, etc. These chiropractors embrace more of modern medicine, but they also utilize techniques that have little evidence behind them. I felt like I didn’t fit anywhere along the spectrum. I either had to embrace the subluxation theory or embrace treatments that I didn’t think were medical effective.
I also developed concerns about the approaches described by professors, many of whom were chiropractors. One, for example, said that he had a patient with flu-like symptoms and after a couple of manipulations, the symptoms were gone. At the time I had only a general anatomy class and a basic physiology class under my belt, but I knew better than that. “Adjusting ” the spine cannot affect flu symptoms.
A few days later, in my Principles of Chiropractic class, the professor (who was the school president and textbook author) related the history of chiropractic and advocated subluxation theory. He told us that D.D. Palmer had cured a janitor’s deafness by cracking his back. The eighth spinal nerve (vestibulocochlear nerve) carries the incoming signals for hearing. It goes from the brain to the inner ear. It does not go through the spine. This was one of many things that professors said that pushed me over the edge, I was the only one in my class of 50+ who appeared to have had any hesitation about the teaching. But I knew that I could never fit in with the chiropractic belief system I was seeing. /p>
Should I lower my shoulder and push through 4 years and $100,000+ to be a doctor in something I couldn’t, with clear conscience, use to really help people get better? Obviously not. So I dropped out.
I am truly blessed to have gotten out of chiropractic school when I did. I was able to withdraw and return all but $68 of my $10,000 student loan for the trimester, and I was right in the middle of PT application season. I talked with my wife, prayed my head off about it, and decided to pursue PT school and just see what would happen. I completed my PTCAS, applied to seven schools, and I got into two of them.
The author, who is about halfway through his training as a physical therapist, has requested that he not be identified by name.
This article was revised on January 5, 2016.