By Cassie LaJeunesse
Women in the chiropractic profession face a unique set of experiences and challenges. Panelists at a Sept. 30 virtual event, “ACA Women’s Roundtable: Education, Leadership, Care Delivery, Patients,” discussed their views on several related issues, including leadership in the profession, chiropractor demographics, and how to encourage more women to pursue a career in chiropractic. The event is the second in a series organized by the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) Committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.
Panelists for the Women’s Roundtable included ACA President Michele Maiers, DC, MPH, PhD; emcee Nakiesha Pearson, DC, ND, MS; moderator Kristina Petrocco-Napuli, DC, MS; Brandi Childress, DC; Tiffany Butler, DC; Heidi Henson-Dunlap, DC; and Jennifer Brocker, DC, DICCP. They shared their experiences and challenges as women in chiropractic and engaged in conversation about the future of the profession.
Women in Leadership
“We’re at a really interesting point in time in the U.S. in the chiropractic profession because we have many national organizations that have women at the helm: Chiropractic Congress, the International Chiropractic Association, the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards, and the American Black Chiropractic Association all have female presidents right now,” Dr. Maiers observed. “We have monthly meetings where we talk about our experiences and how we can better support one another both as leaders and as women in these leadership roles.”
The topic of women in leadership roles within the profession was touched on throughout the event, with panelists discussing some of their own experiences with leadership and how having more women in leadership roles can change the perception of women as leaders in chiropractic. Dr. Maiers shared findings from her recently published research exploring leadership at chiropractic organizations across the country. She noted that while we’re continuing to see more women on faculty at colleges or on organization boards, it is still rare to see a woman in the top leadership position. Dr. Brocker pointed out that only three of ACA’s 13 specialty councils have female presidents.
The group agreed that in order to see more women in leadership positions in the future, current leaders must support and encourage their colleagues to pursue these roles and make their voices heard. “We as women need to continue to push forward and make our voices known,” Dr. Brocker said. “I think it’s our job as leaders to continue to encourage our colleagues to step in and know that they can do it, that they’re not alone and we can support them.”
The panelists also suggested that having more women in leadership positions would in turn encourage more women to pursue chiropractic as a career. Dr. Henson-Dunlap recalled an encounter with a male chiropractor when she was a teen. “I told him that I wanted to be a chiropractor, and he told me that I should consider PT school because chiropractic is hard on the body and, as he put it, ‘As a woman, do you really want to be doing such a physical job?’ Which, in me, kind of incited an ‘I’ll show you’ attitude.”
Dr. Pearson remembered being similarly discouraged by a mentor who continually reminded her that there were not a lot of women in athletic training, a field she was interested in pursuing. An advisor later suggested chiropractic as a career path, leading Dr. Pearson to her current position as an associate professor and chair of the Clinical Sciences department at National University of Health Sciences. “When you don’t see yourself, and you don’t see anyone who looks like you, it’s hard for you to say, ‘Okay, I can do this.’ I think that’s the importance of having that representation there.”
Dr. Butler agreed, recalling, “I think it’s seeing what options you have as a practitioner. When I was in school, instead of traveling over breaks, I would reach out to doctors in the field, and the majority were male. I had maybe one or two that were female; there just weren’t a lot of examples.”
Recent studies show that women make up approximately 37 percent of graduating classes from DC programs. Women are choosing careers in other allied health professions at a much higher rate than chiropractic, with physical therapy graduating classes being 71 percent female and occupational therapy graduating classes being 89 percent female. The panelists discussed these demographics and agreed that increasing the visibility of female chiropractors is one way to improve these numbers. Dr. Henson-Dunlap said that she met a female chiropractor for the first time in chiropractic school. She now gives talks at STEM days for elementary schools in her community, showing young girls that chiropractic could be a career path for them.
The panelists also explored chiropractic demographics in relation to patient care, noting that while about 32 percent of chiropractors are women, approximately 60 percent of chiropractic patients are female. They agreed that this statistic shows an opportunity for growth in the profession, especially as many female patients prefer to see a female practitioner. “It’s definitely an opportunity for us to increase our numbers so that there are more female practitioners available to serve that population,” Dr. Childress said. “Everyone who has a spine is needing chiropractic care.”
Patient Care and Boundaries
For the final topic of the event, Dr. Petrocco-Napuli pointed out that chiropractic care can be seen as intimate, and sometimes this can lead to incorrect perceptions or misunderstandings with patients. The panelists explored ideas about setting boundaries and how to handle situations in which boundaries are violated. Dr. Childress and Dr. Butler both recounted situations in which patients acted inappropriately with them or another provider. They talked about the need to document these encounters, dismiss problematic patients, and consider the use of more open treatment areas to protect practitioners and patients alike. The panelists agreed that, in respect to boundaries, it is also vitally important to trust your instincts, have a plan in place, and be aware of patient boundaries as well as your own.
In addition to these topics, the panelists had a productive conversation about intersectionality, recognizing personal biases, and the traits that contribute to success in leadership. A recording of the event is available on Learn ACA.
Cassie LaJeunesse is an associate in ACA’s branding and communications department.