Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

A Canadian Chiropractic Master – interview with Dr. David Peterson

By Roger Turner DC   

Features Leadership Profession

spent a lot of time working for and in the profession and I’m concerned about
it.  We have so many positives: we have a
dedicated profession, we really get health and we get the whole concept that
health comes from the inside out, not from the outside in.  We understand health and wellness versus the
crisis care,”  says Dr. David Peterson,
of Calgary Alberta.

Throughout his career, Dr. Peterson has been
involved in the chiropractic profession in many ways.  Among them, he has served as President of
Canadian Chiropractic Association, President of the Canadian Chiropractic
Research Foundation, Registrar for the College
of Chiropractic of Alberta,
Chairman of the Commission of Accreditation and Chairman of the Board of
Trustees of the Northwestern Health Sciences
University in Minneapolis.



Peterson runs a large and successful
multi-disciplinary wellness clinic in Calgary,
holds a Fellowship in Rehabilitation and is currently pursuing a fellowship
program in Occupational Health and applied Economics.

in Chiropractic

“I grew
up with the kids of a local chiropractor,” says Dr. Peterson. “I went to their
cottage, rode their horses and rode in their boat. I was a poor pastor’s kid
and they were very generous with all they had. 

“I was
a patient of his since five years of age. I knew about chiropractic, and when
their son went off to CMCC, he told me about how wonderful it was.  I knew that his dad helped a lot of people – he
had helped me – they had a nice lifestyle. He was his own boss.”

“I went
to CMCC at 18 years of age. Everyone had one or two years of university,
undergraduate degrees, and I thought, ‘I’m in over my head here.’  So I applied myself and worked hard and
things worked out.”


parents raised me with good values, morals and ethics,” continues Peterson.

practice, chiropractors like Ron Carter, Doug Oke and Derrill Ladell were
friends and mentors. They were more than good chiropractors; they were servants
and volunteers in professional organizations who demonstrated to me how to be a
servant, a volunteer and how to give back.”

“From a
young age I was taught that whatever you do, do the best that you can. I grew
up that way. Being the best was never my goal and I certainly don’t classify
myself as ‘being the best’.  I’ve been
relatively successful and I’ve given my best.”

up, there was not a lot of disposable income, but we never lacked for anything
because we had very generous people around us. So, when I first started
practice, my first goal was to ‘make a lot of money’ so I could buy anything I
wanted.  That was, until I got married
and my wife straightened me out.  ‘David’,
she said, ‘the most important things in life are people and friends.’  That was an epiphany for me.  She was absolutely right.  That changed my whole outlook and I began to
focus on friendships, relationships, and began to volunteer to give back. That
has done more than anything to shape me.”

  There are many opportunities to
better this profession and that’s where my focus and goals are now.  I’m a networker, I’m connected to a lot of
people and I think that has been one of my strengths.”


Dr. Peterson notes, “Our biggest challenge was when we expanded our
office from a two-chiropractor facility to a multi-disciplinary facility with
12 health professionals. My role changed from a chiropractor to an
administrator/motivator – which was an interesting transition.” 

challenge came two and a half years ago, when I tore my rotator cuff playing
hockey and was off work for close to a year. 
It presented some challenges but at the same time some opportunities
because I was able to sit back and realize that, ‘I’m not ready to retire, I’m
not ready to give up.’  It give me a
different perspective because when I’m in the trenches working with patients
all day I would never take the opportunity to sit back and get a perspective on

“The element
that has helped me maintain my patient flow is the fact that that many of my
patients have become friends and lifetime wellness patients. Develop a respect for people, treat them honestly and care about
them.  We have patients that have been
with me since my first month in practice back in 1974.”

thing is to be honest with people. Tell it like it is. All of us want people to
like us and we want to help them so badly that we can ‘over promise’ without
realizing it, and set unreasonable expectations for our patients. Patients
appreciate you’re honesty and like it when you’re ‘up front’ with them. Give
them regular progress updates.  Doing
progress exams is probably one of the most useful things I do in my practice.
It gives the patient a benchmark, and then you have an opportunity to say, ‘OK,
in this next period of time, this is what our goals are.’”

Patient education solution

“One of
the biggest challenges in healthcare is health education,” says Dr. Peterson.  “There’s so much material out there but
nobody knows about it and practitioners certainly do not have clinic time to be
able to sit down and educate their patients as to lifestyle changes and
modifications. Our payer system doesn’t allow for that.”

Therefore, my new project is , with Dr. Gordon McMorland, who is a chiropractor
and a researcher in Calgary.
It is a web-based venue for health education. 
Its key is retained learning.  In
a normal lecture or video series, the average person commits less than 10 per
cent to long term memory. We have a software platform with Adaptive Knowledge
Retention that will put 80-90 per cent of the information into long-term
memory.  We’re creating a ‘virtual mall’
for health education where any number of subject matter experts can open up ‘stores’
in this mall and give (and/or sell) information, both to the public and to
health professionals.  DCs can replace
patient lectures, by sending new patients to this website for ‘Spine 101’. The
doctor can track to see that they’ve actually gone through the course, and track to see what their knowledge
retention is. It takes essential pieces of information and puts them into a
question and answers and review format. It’s a lot different from a knowledge
download on continuing education or DVD’s.”

also see this as an opportunity for continuing education instructors – who
spend 40 weekends a year on the road – talking to small groups of doctors to
put their workshops online in a high retention format.

area where this portal might be useful is research. We know that knowledge
transfer is a huge part and there is so much new research information but it
takes 10 to 15 years for that research information to filter into the
practitioner’s offices.  In setting up
this knowledge network, we hope to be able to bring education for the doctors
as well as the public. We are targeting early 2010 to be up-and-running.”


Peterson continues, “Involvment with the profession has created some of my most
memorable great times!  I was able to
travel across the country; meet leaders from Canada,
the United States
and internationally who really inspired me. 
We have amazing leaders in this profession who are focused and dedicated,
and to hang out and listen to them was inspiring!  I gave a lot of my time, but I received so
much more in return – I’d do it again in a heartbeat.  That’s definitely been one of the highlights
of my career.”

to my success

people,” states Dr. Peterson, without even taking a moment to consider his

have to love people, otherwise you’re in the wrong profession. People can sense
if you care or if you don’t care. You can’t manufacture or ‘pump that out’ for
an extended period of time – it gets stale pretty fast if you try to manufacture
it.  You really have to respect and care
about people.”

“But, another key is the
networking. I’ve connected with so many people that have helped me so
much.  I think I’m a bit of a visionary
when it comes to long-term projections, thinking and planning.  I always have some new idea or project that I
am working on.”

biggest success

Outside of practice, definitely my
biggest success is my family.  I’ve got
an amazing wife and three wonderful kids and many great friends.  They are what makes my life worthwhile.” 

“In chiropractic,
my involvement with the Canadian Chiropractic Association was huge for me as
was involvement in spearheading the research program.  I was fortunate to be able to be involved at
the start of it, when we developed the vision for university-based research in Canada, and to
work with it for several years. Now, to see others like Alan Gotlieb, step up
and move it beyond my wildest expectations has been really inspiring.” 


in 1998, as president of the Canadian Chiropractic Association, I put together
a team of the ‘movers and shakers’ within the profession, and healthcare
generally, for a weekend in Toronto.  Our goal was to see what healthcare would
look like in 10 to 15 years. The
second part to that was, ‘how do we position the chiropractic profession to
meet those needs?’  We developed a
multi-disciplinary, integrated practice model where patients are partners in
their healthcare – as opposed to the ‘ivory tower’ attitude –  and with a focus on prevention and wellness
care.  I came away from that weekend
with:  ‘Wow, some of the stuff was pretty
amazing.  Why don’t I take what we
discovered and build it?’ 

today it’s working very well, but it has its challenges.  There are days that being a single doc in an
office would be wonderful, but I wouldn’t go back.  We deliver much better care for people, have
much better options and it’s a much more stimulating environment to be in as
far as personal and practice growth.”


Dr. Peterson shares his advice for new graduates in
the chiropractic profession.

Get involved in your community and your profession, let people know
who you are and what you do, join service clubs and be involved.  That’s key! 
Strive for excellence in your practice. Don’t just get through life, be
the best; find your specialty and go after it.”

specialize in an area, find something that would differentiate you in clinical
practice and be the very best at that.”

“Be a
friend; get friends in your life; that’s what makes life worth living, really.” 

seasoned pros

Dr. Peterson notes,  “If you’re
doing the same thing over and over, and it’s still fresh for you, that’s
great.  If it’s not fresh anymore, then I
would take some courses, find out what you’re interested in.”

yourself to expand the type of care you give your practice.”

that, you need to relax and enjoy life. 
Have fun, don’t take yourself or life too seriously, make sure you take
time to enjoy life and not be all work.  
That was our motto in school and I’m still all about having fun and
enjoying life.

– Is it the cause?

“One of
the things that was seminal for me was my rehab fellowship because I’ve always
been a ‘muscular-skeletal rehab 
practitioner’ and the fellowship really offered me a lot of knowledge
for what I do.  I was trained, in chiropractic,
that we look for the root cause of the problem, and that that was the
subluxation. Well, what I found is that, often, the subluxation may not be the
root cause.  Often, it’s repetitive
strain, or postural or occupational stresses, or stress itself that creates restrictions
and subluxations, and that it is important to remove those stresses or the
subluxations will continue to return.”

Challenges and opportunities for
the profession

 “Although we have much ‘going for us’ as
chiropractors, I feel that we are losing ground to the medical juggernaut.  They have large, physio-based networks of
clinics that are winning contracts from the multi-national companies, workers
compensation and insurance providers – as a result, chiropractors are ending up
with the scraps.  I see physiotherapists
doing a lot of the research now, and producing a lot of the good papers and
books. We see medicine launching into this prevention-wellness game, but it’s
from a totally wrong paradigm. But they are large, they’re credible and they
are well funded.”

Coulter told us 15 years ago, ‘For the chiropractic profession, wellness is
where it’s at.’  Chiropractic is so well
positioned for this, and this is where we need to stake our claim.”  Looking back, we didn’t listen to him.” 

biggest challenge for chiropractic is that we still remain isolated, we have
independent offices and we’re not integrated into the system.  Therefore, we’re on the fringe – we’re

“Three areas we need to focus on are:

Research: We need to continue to support

We need to develop real Masters-level programs, within our profession,
for rehab, clinic nutrition, geriatrics, pediatrics and sport chiropractic.  Physiotherapy has a Masters program in spinal
manipulation, and they’re now the go-to people for spinal manipulation – that’s
wrong.  They’ve got their foot in our

larger clinics:
need to develop clinics that can afford the best equipment, facilities, and
technology, and then develop networks of clinics that can compete with the
national physio-based chains, and go after business, industry and insurance
companies.  Otherwise, we’re going to continue
losing ground.”


Dr. Roger Turner has
been a pioneer chiropractor for 34 years. He is an accomplished speaker
with appearances at Parker Seminars, Parker College, Palmer College,
several state and provincial associations, and at independent
consultant seminars. Ask Dr.T any questions at

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