For Life University (Life U) upperclassmen students in our renowned Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C) program, the time is quickly approaching to decide on a practical path to practice after they graduate and complete their required clinical hours. Common ways to practice include opening a practice of their own or serving as an associate chiropractor in an already established chiropractic office.

Is an Associate Chiropractor Role the Right Move for me?

It’s not unusual for new chiropractors to want to work as an associate chiropractor in an established office before considering setting up their own shop at some point down the line. But what does that process look like, and how does a student know if it is the right move for them? Chiropractic Economics seeks to clear up some misconceptions in their article “Should you be an associate or an independent contractor?”

A good starting point in considering if being an associate is right for you is by finding a doctor practicing in a manner that utilizes the techniques and chiropractic philosophy that you desire to practice. Strategic networking events, such as those hosted by the Life U Alumni Association and LIFEforce, can prove pivotal in building powerful professional relationships.

Call the doctors that interest you and see if it is possible for you to shadow them, so you can observe their patient care style. As an associate, you have the chance to learn more about systems, marketing, protocols and procedures as they play out in a real-world scenario. As you work and gain more hands-on experience, you will have an increased capacity and understanding for efficiency and care in consultations, exams, systems and business management.

Accurate patient documentation is all-important, and every state has different requirements, so you need to become skilled in how to handle insurance and coding with the diagnosis and documentation. Needless to say, it is a lot to manage when you are first starting out, so having a stable income from the beginning can make a major difference. You will learn to manage staff effectively, work with a team and serve as the backup doctor for big clinical decisions. The doctor may even decide at some point to ask you to outright purchase the practice as they move on to other ventures or retirement, which might make for a smoother transition.

Working as an independent contractor is another option, one that has more flexibility but less stability by definition. It also means having your own liability and malpractice insurance, so that can be tricky to manage. If you are on the fence about if you want to work with a particular doctor and in what capacity, you will need to have a list of prepared questions to ask that will help clarify your next steps.

Questions to Ask a Potential Chiropractic Employer

Chiropractic Economics poses illuminating questions to ask your potential chiropractic employer in their article “5 Chiropractic interview questions: What every D.C needs to ask during their next job interview.” In the past, a fair amount of power rested in the hands of a clinic owner, as they are the ones with the open position that make that decision for their business. However, this paradigm has shifted a fair bit from 2020 onwards, as there are usually more associate chiropractor positions open than there are qualified potential associate chiropractors available to fill them.

Therefore, you can afford to be a little picky if you choose to. You want to be sure that you pick the best possible option for you, so in a chiropractic interview, you are interviewing the clinic owner as much as they are interviewing you.

  1. How healthy is the business today?

This question should start to give you knowledge on how financially healthy the business is, the quality of the training you would receive, their operating systems, expectations on the job, benefits and salary.

It can seem uncomfortable to respectfully ask about specific details regarding business operations, especially financials. However, it’s reasonable and, in fact, expected for a clinic owner to openly discuss with a potential associate their office’s monthly collection average as well as their business overhead costs. Knowing the profit each month is steady and solid will help you know if you are aligning yourself with a practice that is stable and growing.

  1. How long have you been looking for an associate doctor?

This is a salary negotiating tactic, but it will also help you learn a bit about where they are coming from and what they are looking for. If they haven’t been searching long and seem like they have several good candidates to select from, then you might not have as much leverage to negotiate a better salary. However, if a clinic owner has had an opening for several months, you may have more room to work with.

Once you have an idea about the length of their search, then you can follow up with questions about any possibility of salary negotiations.

  1. How did you determine the offered salary?

With a shortage of available associate doctors in the job market, associate salaries have risen. estimates the average total pay of an associate chiropractor in the U.S. to be $83,097 annually (as of December 2021).  Asking about how the clinic owner determined their salary offering will help you see their mindset and expectations.

One benchmark to note is that, as an associate chiropractor, you should reasonably expect a salary that represents between 20-30% of the income that your work would generate for the business.

Knowing how much the office will charge for your services, as well as your expected weekly patient volume will help you do the math to see if the incoming funds add up to a fair return for your services. Remember that there are lots of overhead expenses to consider, so that can also eat into what you might expect to take home.

  1. What are your long-term plans for the practice?

It’s important to know where the business is headed and how an associate doctor fits into that. Is the business destined to get bigger? Does the clinic owner want more time off, so they need an extra doctor to help? Are they looking to retire or to sell the practice? If so, when? Getting these answers ahead of time will help you know if this job opportunity matches your own long-term professional goals.

  1. How long have your current employees been working for you?

This question will help you see how happy your possible new co-workers are in that office. People that are content with their work and compensated fairly tend to stay in that role for a long period of time. On the flip side, if employee turnover at a clinic is high, and the average time that employees stay is months rather than years, it could be a red flag of managerial problems.

It can be nerve-wracking to ask direct questions, but it is important to find the right place to begin your burgeoning chiropractic career. Posting detailed questions is typically impressive to a clinic owner, as they want to have a fully engaged applicant committed to helping the business grow and succeed. Happy hunting!


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