Opening the Door to Integrated Health Care: A Chiropractic Internship Spotlight

By Sienna Shoup

While preparing for graduation, many chiropractic students are carefully considering the next steps in their career. No matter your goals, clinical experience is the key to finding a great job, according to Logan University student Kaelyn Mead. As an intern in the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Chiropractic Services Program in Bethesda, Maryland, she is one of several chiropractic students immersed in the clinical care of members of the military and veterans, learning firsthand how integrated care enhances not only patient outcomes, but also the providers who serve them.

Walter Reed Bethesda, a teaching and research hospital, regularly has residents rotating through its departments, and offers chiropractic students the opportunity to learn in this multidisciplinary setting along with those working toward other types of healthcare degrees. Several chiropractic colleges, including Logan, have established relationships with Walter Reed Bethesda, enabling one or two students to participate in the internship program for the last 30 weeks leading up to their graduation. Other programs offered at Walter Reed include Department of Veterans Affairs rotations and post-graduate VA residencies.

With No Two Days Alike, Clinical Experience Is Plentiful

Kaelyn currently works about 40 hours a week at the hospital, and she says no two days are the same–which creates an exceptional learning environment. As an intern, she rotates through different departments daily, including Physical Medicine and Rehab, Physical Therapy, Radiology, Orthopedic Surgery and Neurology. In the Chiropractic Program, her main responsibilities include seeing new and follow-up patients who are strictly active-duty military personnel, and checking in with her supervising clinicians for treatment, referrals and management. She also spends time studying for board exams, doing online homework and making sure she’s up to date on the latest research so she can provide her patients with the best care.

“Clinical experience is something that cannot be taught or explained,” says Kaelyn. The hands-on experience at [Walter Reed Bethesda] gives her the opportunity to combine everything she’s learned in school with real-patient scenarios. She’s learning how to document patients’ histories, answer their questions, complete pertinent physical exams, render a treatment and build a rapport with her patients.

In Kaelyn’s opinion, the opportunity to be exposed to the work of other healthcare providers is unmatched. She has gained new perspectives from other providers’ clinical experience, and at Walter Reed Bethesda, these providers are tremendously receptive to chiropractic and its non-drug approach to pain management. They agree that mechanical problems should be solved using mechanical solutions, and that a pharmacologic approach can only provide temporary relief.

Shared Knowledge and Mutual Appreciation Among Providers

Through her integrated program, Kaelyn has learned new and efficient patient intake and examination procedures, as well as different treatment modalities and options for patient care. Likewise, she shares a new perspective with other providers when it comes to patient cases, standards of care, and relevant research and case studies. She is also able to teach others about up-to-date therapies and modalities currently taught at chiropractic colleges across the country. Kaelyn adds that the mutual respect between providers at Walter Reed Bethesda is immensely encouraging.

Kaelyn’s biggest takeaway is learning how beneficial integration can be for patients and doctors alike. “The health care model is shifting, creating a better balance between evidence-informed and patient-centered care, and our profession holds so much potential to be the catalyst for change,” she said.

“We need to continue to eliminate the barriers to chiropractic and conservative health care for all populations,” said Kaelyn. “There is an incredible opportunity for growth, and it’s important to expand so that the public, as well as military, veterans and their descendants, have access to high-quality conservative musculoskeletal care.” Kaelyn has lobbied on behalf of this platform for the past few years with the American Chiropractic Association (ACA) and Student American Chiropractic Association (SACA) and plans to continue her advocacy work.

What’s Next?

After graduation, Kaelyn plans to apply for VA Residency programs. “The door is wide open, and my heart is not set on anything specific, though I would love to continue to serve in the military healthcare system,” she said. “It’s extremely fulfilling when you are able to listen to patients, give them some one-on-one time, and improve their life in a few simple ways.”

No matter where she ends up, Kaelyn plans on taking advantage of the learning opportunities that lie within every door that opens for her.

Sienna Shoup is an associate in ACA’s Branding and Communications Department.  


Interested in Applying for an Internship at Walter Reed?

For anyone interested in applying for the Walter Reed Bethesda internship program, Kaelyn recommends joining adjusting clubs at school, including MoPal and R2P, to perfect the palpation and adjusting skills needed for this type of position. Fine-tuning these skills should be a top priority, she explains, as military personnel can be built differently than most patients or peers many students have experience adjusting, so anything that provides exposure to different body types is essential. In addition, Kaelyn says it’s crucial to stay up to date with the latest research on evidence-based standards of care for musculoskeletal conditions. She also recommends attending weekend seminars, asking questions and finding mentors who are eager to help you reach your full potential.

The application for the internship at Walter Reed Bethesda is fairly straightforward, but Kaelyn stresses that honesty and authenticity are key. It is a given that potential candidates would be honored to serve the military and are grateful for their service, so it’s important to go beyond that and explain what really makes you stand out compared with other applicants.

Kaelyn says her ACA membership helped prepare for the experience as well by providing a network of doctors and peers willing to answer her questions, as well as access to current research in the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapy (JMPT), which gives her the ability to back up her treatment protocols and share new information with patients and other residents.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy of the Department of Army/Navy/Air Force, Department of Defense, or U.S. Government.