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Not Just Back Talk by Crick and Crack: Medicine and Chiropractic – Part 3

This is the third part in a series of articles addressing the history of the relationship between medicine and chiropractic. In the first article, we discussed the unconscious bias most people had, and many still have, toward the chiropractic profession, as a result of covert efforts to contain and eliminate it by organized medicine. In Part 2, we discussed the antagonism that existed in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries between medicine and those practitioners of manipulation, often known as bonesetters.

We will now continue with the discussion, leading up to the eventual suit brought by Dr. Chester Wilk, a chiropractor, and three colleagues, against the American Medical Association (AMA) and other medical organization defendants in 1976, hereafter known as Wilk v AMA. In that suit, the plaintiffs charged that the AMA conspired to contain and eliminate the chiropractic profession. Important in its defense was the AMA’s claim that chiropractic was unscientific, and its schools substandard. As background, it is important to understand the evolution of both professions.

In an article entitled A History of Manipulative Therapy by Erland Pettman, PT, published in 2007, it stated that medicine in the 18th century was based on the philosophy of “observe and use what helps, avoid what does harm”. Using this logic, in 1796 Benjamin Rush, America’s most prominent physician, concluded that bloodletting was the most logical approach for the treatment of fever. His approach was lauded, and the instrument used, the lancet, was to give its name to the world’s most prestigious medical journal. In 1800, medicine was justifiably called “the withered arm of science”. Throughout the 19th century admission for medical training in American universities was most often the student’s ability to pay, the course often consisted of two 4-month semesters, and a student could fail 40% of his classes and still graduate. An attempt to introduce written exams was protested, as over half of Harvard’s medical students could barely write. After graduation, new doctors often went to Europe to augment their training. The profession of medicine at this time was in disarray and disrepute. It was against this backdrop that osteopathy and chiropractic emerged, both professions founded by men disenchanted with the unpredictable results of practical medicine at the time. In the early 20th century, a standard of medical education was established, and by 1923, two-thirds of all medical schools were forced to close, with only a small remainder left having met the necessary criteria.

At this same time, many chiropractic colleges were being established, with minimal credentialing and standards, much like their earlier medical counterparts. The curricula, however, included the basic sciences of anatomy, chemistry, and physics, but instead of surgery, chiropractic students were trained in manipulation and physical medicine. By the late 1960’s, the maturation of chiropractic colleges paralleled that of medical colleges, and they were accredited by the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW), the same governmental agency that accredited medical schools. Many schools closed, and the remaining 30% met the required established standard. The irony cannot be ignored here that the AMA accused the chiropractic profession of substandard education, and used this as justification to proceed with clandestine efforts to eliminate it when it was guilty of exactly the same thing a scant 50 years earlier.

Next time: Wilk v AMA: the facts revealed

Yours in health,

Crick and Crack

Dr. Thomas Turek grew up in New Jersey and attended Rutgers University and New York Chiropractic College. He has practiced in St. Johnsbury for over 35 years, and lives in Waterford with his wife Dorothy. Dr. Travis Howard grew up in Rantoul, Ill. He was a medic in the Air Force for eight years. He attended University of Maryland European Division, Illinois State University, and Logan College of Chiropractic. He lives with his wife and three sons in Littleton, N.H. To submit a question for the column, email