Weighty matters: The reality of chiropractic debt



There is an old adage you may have heard; “May you live in interesting times,” the gist of

What’s more, new DCs are expected to make a sizable investment in equipment, a lease or mortgage on office space, capital to ensure survivability over the first 12 months as collections grow and, last but not least, supporting themselves and their families during the practice startup period. To attempt this while saddled with a six-figure student loan debt is a potentially fatal endeavor.

Thirty years ago at my “grand opening”, a well-meaning guest approached me and looked me square in the eye. “Don’t give credit, young man” she sternly directed. She went on to give me a list of “do’s and don’ts,” most of which I quickly forgot.

I had graduated from chiropractic school with what I thought at the time was a sizeable debt—well into five- figures. I remember a cartoon that a classmate had shared showing a couple of old gents in rockers on a porch, one leaning over to the other and shouting in his ear, “Yeah, Frank, just a couple more loan payments to go ….” We laughed nervously, thinking far into the future.

Today’s graduates often face huge debts into the six-figures. The usual strategies for opening a practice seem trivial in comparison to managing the loan repayment process. At first, deferrals and payment plans make the initial trauma workable, but they can’t avoid the inevitable reckoning.

My younger brother followed me to chiropractic school. He became an excellent adjuster with a great personality. He was loved by many and known for his quick, booming laugh.

Later, one his classmates asked me how he had died. This was a tough question to answer, although the clinical details were straightforward: heart failure complicated by liver failure, aggravated by ethanol poisoning. These were etiological factors for which only my brother could ultimately be held accountable.

I said the truth anyway, “It was his student debt that killed him.” There was silence on the phone. An answer too brutal in its truth to comfortably entertain.

What had started as a $100,000 or so of indebtedness had, over the years, turned into over half a million.

Eventually he had to default. The embarrassment, shame, and impossibility of any repayment process ate at him. He ceased practice, taking employment in a large company with a decent salary, but the specter of debt followed him to the grave.

I will never forget the day of his death. The shock, the pain, the abject waste of it all. Part of me still believes it was the debt that brought his early death, and the reasonable part of me knows it was his path and his decision. Eventually, I will come to peace with it.

We all know that our profession has a problem. We cannot afford the tremendous debt that follows new doctors into practice. Our educational institutions have an insatiable thirst for tuition dollars. Classroom seats must be filled, and salaries paid to instructors and administrators. And yet we also have a responsibility to those coming into colleges who are choosing to believe that any amount of debt will be worth it in the end.

You, are ultimately responsible for the amount of debt you choose to assume. Don’t make it harder on yourself than it needs to be. Reach out to those who have gone before. Avoid the counsel of those with a vested interest in your debt. Make financial decisions that will be good for yourself and your family in the coming years of practice life.


Perry ChinnPerry Chinn, DC, is a 1986 Life University graduate, and has been practicing in the Puget Sound area of Washington State for 30 years, most recently in downtown Seattle. He is the author of Symphony of Wellness and Soaring Beyond Fear. He can be reached at drpchinn@gmail.com or through perrychinn.com.


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