Survey of US chiropractors' perceptions about their clinical role as specialist or generalist

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Objective: The purpose of this study was to provide new information that describes chiropractors' professional identity relative to their perceived clinical role as specialist or generalist. Methods: A pragmatic, descriptive, cross-sectional survey was performed of randomly sampled state-board licensed chiropractors in the United States during the period 2002-2003 to assess the chiropractors' perceptions of how their chiropractic patients see them, and how they see themselves, as specialist or generalist. For this exploratory study, we anchored the terms "back pain specialist," "musculoskeletal specialist," and "primary care generalist" to brief generic reference definitions in our survey instrument. Results: Of our 2598 valid survey contacts, 1343 chiropractors returned their surveys either partially or fully completed, and a total of 720 chiropractor surveys were used in this study. Most of these chiropractors perceived that their new patients viewed them as "back pain specialists." Chiropractors believed that their established patients (80%), more so than their new patients (58%), were likely to view them as a primary care generalist. Chiropractors described themselves as both specialist and generalist, and they expressed a greater capability to diagnose, rather than to treat, health disorders that were not musculoskeletal. Conclusion: Chiropractic physician perceptions as reported in this study suggest that the nature of certain chiropractor-patient relationships may evolve profoundly over time, particularly as patients transition from new to established patients within the chiropractic practice. Understanding the complex nature of chiropractic health care provision may carry implications for advancing evidence-based chiropractic practice and clinical training, enhancing successful and comprehensive management of the complex health concerns of chiropractic patients, fostering beneficial sustained partnerships between chiropractors and their patients, and improving overall delivery of optimal integrative health care. © 2009 National University of Health Sciences.




Smith, M., & Carber, L. A. (2009). Survey of US chiropractors’ perceptions about their clinical role as specialist or generalist. Journal of Chiropractic Humanities, 16(1), 21–25.

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