Chiropractic + Naturopathic Doctor

A Canadian Chiropractic Master – interview with Dr. David Peterson

By Roger Turner   

Features Leadership Profession

“I’ve 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.

“I’ve 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.


Start 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.”

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

“In 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.”

“Growing 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.”

“Another 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 life.”

“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.”

“Another 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.”

“We 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.

“Another 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.”

Political arena
Dr. 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.”

Key to my success
“Loving people,” states Dr. Peterson, without even taking a moment to consider his response.

“You 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.”

My 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.”

Multi-disciplinary clinic
“Back 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?’

“Overall, 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.”

New grads
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.”

“Definitely 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.”

For 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.”

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

“Beyond 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.

Subluxation – 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.”

“Ian 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.”

The 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 outside.”

“Three areas we need to focus on are:

Research: We need to continue to support research.

Education: 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 door.”

Develop larger clinics:
We 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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