The Caring Support Blog

A Day in The Life of a Chiropractor - A Conversation with Dr. Dan Wilhelmus

June 15, 2023

Have you ever wondered what it's like to be a chiropractor, healing and restoring balance to the human body? Join us as we go through a day in the life of a chiropractor, uncovering the fascinating moments, challenges, and triumphs they encounter in their noble pursuit of well-being. From the crackling adjustments to the compassionate patient interactions, get ready to gain an insider's perspective on this vital profession that aims to unlock the body's innate healing potential.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am Dan Wilhelmus, I grew up in Norfolk County, married my high school sweetheart, and the two of us live in rural Norfolk and have a home-based practice for myself and my wife, which is a psychotherapist. I graduated in 1995 from the Canadian Memorial Chiropractic College in Toronto and have been here ever since.

What made you want to become a chiropractor?

I always wanted to be in health care and decided that a natural approach was the way I wanted to go, and then decided from that point on chiropractic made the most sense given the profession and how it works, and how the body responds to natural therapies. And it's just it's been very, very rewarding ever since. So this is going to be 28 years.

What are some struggles that you have faced during your career that could have derailed your career and how you overcame it?

I've had some physical injuries dating back to 1993 when I was in my second year of Chiropractic college, and it necessitated the need for hip replacement surgery at that time. I've had multiple surgeries on the hip that eventually ended up in amputation. And so that potentially could derail a career.

But thankfully, I'm very grateful that I've still got the opportunity to work. And I modified my hours so that I work a little less. But I still get to see patients, which is the massive plus of those practices being hands-on with people, becoming friends with them, and seeing them through the course of care.

What do you do for yourself to practice self-care in order to avoid burnout, compassion fatigue, etc.?

So exercise is essential for our business because the practice is very physical. We must stay on top of our health to ensure that we can continue to help others. We want to be role models also in the place of health care. And it's just important to maintain a healthy regime with diet and exercise and take the proper amount of time off.

When we first got into practice, it was easy to work all the time because you thought, "yeah, you have to be there for everybody all the time, and nobody expects you to be there all the time." So it was a mental switch that we had to get used to to make sure that we took care of ourselves and, as you say, prevent that burnout from happening and—taking holidays regularly and making sure that we were taking time for ourselves and our relationship with our family. All of those have been positive sides to making sure that I can be in practice as long as I want or as much as I can.

For those thinking of exploring a career as a Chiropractor:

What does the educational path look like?

The current requirements, and I could be slightly off on some of the things compared to when I came through. But the current trends are you need four years of university in a science-oriented degree, which could be kinesiology, could be anything, as long as you get your science degree. And then you apply for a chiropractic college, and that's a four-year program on top of that. The education for chiropractic and medicine is very similar for the first two years. Then we focus on the spine and the neuromusculoskeletal system versus medicine, which also works on a whole host of other things. But we focus primarily on making sure that the body moves better. So we have a lot of hands-on experience, and technique is a significant component of our class structure. So we want to make sure that when we graduate, we are fully confident in delivering the adjustments that we need to and ensuring we have the experience to jump right into practice.

So from high school on, it's a minimum of eight years now. But the amount of material we have to know is, again, back to ensuring we don't make errors and omissions. So we need to know the full scale of all the conditions that the body might go through, where we might not be treating it, and we might need to refer them out, patients out to the appropriate health care practitioner. So sending them back to the family doctor, if the problem isn't in our scope of practice, it's a very great practice. Still, there's a lot of it because we are doctors, we diagnose, and because we diagnose, we need to make sure that we diagnose correctly. And if we don't have the correct information, we send patients out for the appropriate investigations.

What was your favourite and least favourite part of school?

That's an excellent question. I don't think there was any particular favourite, I love technique. That was something that I enjoyed because that's getting your hands on to patients and who were our colleagues in class. As for the least favourite, I don't think there's one particular one that would stand out to me as least favourite maybe jurisprudence but no they were all, all of the education we received was extremely well put together at the school in Toronto. And Toronto is the only, one of two colleges in Canada right now, and at the time it was the only college in Canada. But there is a French speaking college in Quebec now, so it is the only English speaking college in Canada. So it is, they do a very good job at preparing you for the real world. And jurisprudence is as much as I'll joke about it, it was a good class. It got me prepared for several challenges that showed up in the first few years of practice.

What kept you motivated during your educational journey?

Professional school is interesting because the information at university seems a little arbitrary at times and not all of it applies to what you're going to be doing in life. So my degree was honours in biology and there was a lot of plant biology that I had to take that I didn't think was going to help me in my future profession. But the chiropractic, the beauty of getting into professional school is that now you're learning things that you're going to be using. And that keeps us motivated. But the other part of it is that it's a very intensive program, so you really don't have time to think about it in a way that there's no luxury of taking a break. It's grueling, it's tough, and there's a lot of courses, there's a lot of exams every half year. So you just have to keep at it. And I think most of us at that point are very focused on just getting through to the end and again, doing the best we can scholastically, and managing. I got married after my second year when I was in the Chiropractic college. So my wife and I, you know, were living in Toronto at that time, so school was vital for us to get through. But there is a balance in life, but you must manage your schedule reasonably closely. And here I am, so it worked out fine.

What are some words of wisdom for those pursuing this educational career path?

It's a great profession. The beauty of the profession is that the body's an incredible structure and is full of potential. And there are lots of things that can decrease the opportunity for us to reach our potential. And what we do every day in the practice is tweak, fine-tune the neuromuscular skeletal system, and get the body working better. There's a time and place for medicine and surgery. All those things are important parts of health care. But this is a fun side: we can help a body get better without cutting them open or having medication prescribed. So words of wisdom would be to enjoy the learning process and the successes that come to you in practice. It's a gratifying profession to watch patients get better and be able to see them after the adjustment, being able to bend over and touch their toes, whereas before they couldn't even bend. So things like that. They call them minor miracles if you want, but there is an amazing ability for the body to heal, and it wants to be well. So despite what we can do to make it unwell, it still wants to be well. So it's a very fun time, a very fun profession and very fun to get to know patients. And I think that's another part of the reward is to to meet different people, to come to understand what challenges they have in their life, how you can find a way to offer suggestions about exercise or nutritional information or adjunctive therapies like orthotics and things that can help them get better in a way that they never thought could be. So there's a huge reward for the person who practices in these professions like chiropractic and medicine and optometry and physiotherapy and massage, they're all great professions that give the ability to provide and make a difference in a life. 

What does a day in your life look like? (Average number of clients a day, most common injury, etc.)

So the number of patients is different for every clinic. So many clinics are set up and structured in more of a rehab fashion versus a family-based clinic. Different modalities that people will use. And what I mean by that is they may have things they might use like physiotherapy uses, ultrasound, interferential current, they might use a lot more soft tissue, laser, all of these are things that can happen in the practice. So all of those extra modalities add on time per visit. So chiropractors that are using those particular modalities might just have a different type of flow than somebody who is strictly hands based, predominantly working just with the back and working on getting things moving better. And neither approach is better or worse, they're just different approaches. And that's another benefit of chiropractic is that the scope of practice is so dynamic. You can have people just doing concussion protocol versus people who are just adjusting family-based chiropractic and anything in between. And so to say how many patients come through, it varies so much from doctor to doctor. And so it wouldn't be right to give you a number. What I would say is that most of us know at some point in our practice what the right amount of patient volume is for us to stay on top of the flow and make sure that people aren't waiting too long to get into an appointment. And we try to manage that.

COVID has certainly been an interesting change for many of the practices because what has happened in COVID prevented us from having too many people in the office at one time. So we became very structured with our clinic times and we've maintained that now. And it's a very, very easy flow of the afternoon, like I'll be working this afternoon and I won't have a break from 1:30 till 6. It'll be steady with patients the whole time and that's great, we capitalize on the number of hours for us. And because I am working a bit more part-time than I was before the amputation, I have less room and capacity for patients. So we have a different type of structure and maybe a little bit more to that earlier point of what we do to stay well and healthy. We manage the patient numbers so that you don't come out of here sore. That's a big one.

What tips/advice do you have for healthcare workers in regard to how they can practice self-care at work in order to take care of their bodies?

Well, I think it's very easy to take on the responsibility of people getting better. And I think that that was a major shift early on in my career in which I was made aware. We went to a seminar about patient management and tried to understand that you can't parent the patient. And I think that burnout and frustration in practice comes when you want a person to get well more than they do. And that may sound very strange because we all think that people are here because they want to get well. But in reality, people have many reasons why they can't follow through with exercise programs or nutrition changes or getting better sleep or all of these other issues that might be impeding their wellness. And so, you know, coming back to your question for us personally, we still have to manage that our expectations for care can't be greater than the person in front of us. And that frustration, once that's gone, then you've got the freedom to come in and practice and do your thing and manage your own frustrations so that you don't go through that burnout. You don't go through that anxiety of a person not getting better fast enough. And in many situations, it's not the clinician's fault, it's the person that they're seeing that is just not doing what's best for them on other levels that might be impacting the success of the therapy. So that's something I think the other part of it is that mental wellness is such an important part in all of our lives and now being married to a psychotherapist, I'll put a kick in for that profession and counselling because I think that it's good to have an outlet. It's good to have a third party able to talk to in order to deal with some of the stresses and frustrations that come with all types of professions, but specifically health care. So don't negate the importance of getting your own mental wellness looked after if things are starting to get a little bit challenging. That would be another scenario. So it's great to maintain physical wellness, but mental wellness is just as important and, seeing patients takes a lot out of you mentally. And many times it's very giving to you as well because we have a great time in the practice. We laugh and we joke and it's a very relaxed atmosphere. So for me, I think we've come to a really nice balance. But in the initial years of practice, you take on a lot of stress that you don't need to, and then that factors into your own wellness very, very much.

Is there anything else you would like to tell us about today?

It's great to have these opportunities to give a talk about the profession. I'm very excited to still be practicing, given my life circumstances. So I'm just extremely grateful you reached out and for people who are thinking about the profession, I would encourage you to go visit a chiropractor not necessarily for the sake of getting an adjustment, although that would be useful for understanding better about what gets done, but shadow a chiropractor. Many of us are open to the idea of having people come in and walk around with them when they do their adjustments. You know, a patient willing to have an extra person there. But it's usually very informative for a person who's looking down the road at getting involved professionally. So go scout out and talk to the people in the profession who have been doing it for a long time and take charge of it, and get a feel for what that looks like. So we've had many people do that with us here and some have even gone on to become chiropractors.

About The Author
Denson Natividad
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