Chiropractor Reflects on Injury That Led to an Intellectual and Career Redirect

Susan Wenberg, MA, DC, of Tucson, Ariz., was presented with ACA’s Chiropractor of the Year award at Engage 2022, the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) annual conference, in honor of her exceptional service to the chiropractic profession. Dr. Wenberg, who retired in 2021 after a career of more than 30 years, was an early adopter of both collaborative care and the biopsychosocial model.

Dr. Wenberg

But Wenberg didn’t start out with a chiropractic career in mind. After earning her undergraduate degree in biology, she intended to become a marine biologist; however, an accident on a cross-country bike trip pushed her in an entirely new direction. The incident left Dr. Wenberg with chronic pain, as well as neurological issues that went undiagnosed for more than a decade.

“I had trouble speaking, swallowing, and moving my eyes,” she explains. “I had so much pain, I impulsively walked into a chiropractic office because [the doctor] had a spine on the wall and I thought, ‘That’s one of the places that really hurts.’” That chiropractor would eventually teach Dr. Wenberg more about the profession and its roots in one of her primary academic interests, biomechanics.

“My personal injury was a real game changer because it redirected my intellectual curiosity,” she says.

A New Path

Determined to find more answers, Dr. Wenberg made the pivot to chiropractic school at Los Angeles Chiropractic College (LACC), where she says she “cut her teeth on the biopsychosocial model.” She had the opportunity to study with renowned neurologists in Prague and observe their model of care. While the biopsychosocial model has become more popular in recent years, Dr. Wenberg was an early adopter of this approach. “I saw this in action from the early 90s, and I saw how good it was,” she says.

One of Dr. Wenberg’s early forays into collaborative care began in 2005 with a cocktail party she hosted. It started when she was working in private practice in Tucson while still receiving treatment for her chronic pain and neurological issues. She built relationships with a variety of providers during that period; however, she realized that many of them did not know each other.

“I held a little cocktail party at my house, and I invited all these providers: OTs, PTs, neuropsychologists, reading specialists, optometrists,” she explains. “From then on, we’ve been meeting once a month. I initiated an interdisciplinary collaborative environment within Tucson among the group of us where we started to share, and then over time we learned how to collaborate more effectively. We called ourselves the Brain Bunch.”

Collaboration Benefits Everyone

Dr. Wenberg had the opportunity to deepen her experience with collaborative care when she closed her private practice in 2012 to work as a staff chiropractor for the Veterans Administration (VA) Southern Nevada Healthcare System. She later worked as a staff chiropractor for the Southern Arizona VA Healthcare System, as well. Her experiences with collaboration among the providers in the VA gave her even more insight into successful integrated care and how it benefits both patients and physicians.

“The great thing about the VA system: there’s no economic barrier for the patient. They also get the organizational support. People with physical or cognitive compromise, or that live 100 miles away, have all sorts of support systems at the VA, such as their case worker who keeps them going or travel people who go to pick them up,” she says. “What I know is I can get the patient in the VA to the right provider, period. I can provide access for them to all these things that will facilitate my work with them and will give the veteran a sense of empowerment to keep on trying. And I can close the loop — I know they got there.”

Collaborating with healthcare providers in other specialties in the VA system also helped Dr. Wenberg to better serve her patients. “We have access [in the VA] to everybody else’s notes, so we’re contributing to the same ‘painting’ of what’s going on with that patient,” she explains. “Sometimes another provider can do something that makes it much easier for me to make changes with my patient. If we can each understand why that’s the case, there’s a synergy that’s very exciting.”

‘I Might Not Be Done’

Dr. Wenberg may have retired in 2021, but she prefers to think of this as a pause rather than an ending of her work. “The reason I think I might not be done is TBI (traumatic brain injury) and interdisciplinary care are my special areas of interest, and they’re both very misunderstood,” she says. “There’s a lot of room for education there. It’s a little bit hilarious that as I step down, these are big topics.” So though she’s taking a step back in some ways, Dr. Wenberg hopes to continue to push collaborative care forward for future generations of chiropractors.

“I realize I stand on the shoulders of giants: chiropractors and other supporters who opened doors for our profession, thus providing me with the opportunities I have enjoyed,” she says. “I am grateful to all of them.”


Advice for Career and Beyond

Reflecting on her personal and professional journey, Dr. Wenberg shares some pieces of advice that she tries to follow in her daily life:

  • You must take care of your own emotional and personal needs so that you have the emotional energy to serve others using patient-centered care.
  • Put yourself in situations where you will fail, or perform poorly, or come in last place. – “People don’t really like that one,” she explains. “Because of my head injury, there’s a lot of things I used to do well that I don’t. But I got over the fact that I wasn’t doing them well. I go out and do things that I’m not good at doing, and frankly, it makes it much easier when you work with patients that don’t do things well.”
  • Hang out with people outside of your field who are excited about their lives and careers, so that you don’t get stuck in your little bubble.
  • If you don’t know what to do, put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.

For chiropractors specifically, Dr. Wenberg offers a few pieces of career and practice advice:

  • Shadow other chiropractors, but also follow providers in other disciplines.
  • Get a mentor. Actually, get several.
  • Create clinic notes that everybody can read and understand. Include your thought process behind what you are doing.
  • Find your home in patient-centered care, evidence-based care, and collaboration. Embrace the biopsychosocial model.
  • Teach your patients how to not need your services.


Cassie LaJeunesse is an associate in the ACA Branding and Communications Department.