Chiropractic students' cognitive dissonance to statements about professional identity, role, setting and future: international perspectives from a secondary analysis of pooled data

Chiropr Man Therap. 2021 Feb 2;29(1):5. doi: 10.1186/s12998-021-00365-6.


Background: Chiropractic students demonstrate philosophically opposing views about the chiropractic profession. The primary aim was to describe chiropractic students' responses to statements about chiropractic identity, role, setting, and future direction. A secondary aim was to describe the frequency of internally conflicting responses.

Methods: Three datasets from Europe, North America, and Australia/New Zealand were pooled in a secondary data analysis. Chiropractic students from 25 chiropractic training institutions completed interrelating surveys (combined response rate 21.9%) between 2013 and 2018. The survey instrument investigated student viewpoints about chiropractic professional identity, role, practice setting and future direction of chiropractic practice. Student attitudes about chiropractic were described using weighted proportions to adjust for unequal population sampling across the three geographical regions. The frequency of concordant and discordant student responses was described by combining identity items with items that explored responses about practice role, setting and future direction. The relationship between student characteristics (age, sex, education, association membership and geographical region) and ideologically conflicting responses were assessed using the Chi-squared test and Cramér's V.

Results: Data from 2396 student chiropractors (50.8% female; from Europe 36.2%, North America 49.6% and Australia/New Zealand 14.5%) were analysed. For identity, nearly half of the chiropractic students (weighted 45.1%) agreed that it is important for chiropractors to hold strongly to the traditional chiropractic theory that adjusting the spine corrects "dis-ease" and agreed (weighted 55.5%) that contemporary and evolving scientific evidence is more important than traditional chiropractic principles. The frequency of discordant (ideologically conflicting) student responses ranged from 32.5% for statements about identity versus role, to 51.4% for statements about identity versus future. There was no association between student age, sex and internally conflicting responses. Chiropractic students' professional association membership status, pre-chiropractic education and geographical region were associated with ideologically conflicting responses.

Conclusions: Chiropractic students in this analysis show traditional and progressive attitudes towards the chiropractic profession. Individual student responses frequently contradict in terms of professional ideology, but most (approximately half) students demonstrate concordant progressive and mainstream attitudes. Ideological conflict may raise concerns about some students' ability to learn and make clinical judgements, and potential for disharmony in the chiropractic fraternity.

Keywords: Chiropractic; Cognitive dissonance; Education, professional; Interprofessional relations; Students, health occupations.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Australia
  • Chiropractic / education*
  • Cognitive Dissonance*
  • Europe
  • Female
  • Forecasting
  • Humans
  • Internationality
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • New Zealand
  • North America
  • Professional Role*
  • Students, Health Occupations*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult