Meet Dr Lizl Westermann, who is a chiropractor from Little Falls. Dr Westermann was born in Pretoria, raised in Ellisras, moved to Johannesburg to study Chiropractic at the University of Johannesburg, and now resides on a farm in Sterkfontein, Krugersdorp. She graduated and obtained her master’s degree at the University of Johannesburg and completed her thesis on the effects of three different conservative treatment protocols in the management of iliotibial band friction syndrome in long-distance runners. Dr Westermann has a keen interest in paediatrics and sport injuries, as well as equine acupuncture.
When she qualified in 2010, she started off as a locum in Norwood and soon realised that she wanted to go out on her own, and follow her own passion and path. Dr Westermann opened her own practice in August and has grown immensely in the last five years. She now runs a very successful practice with her friend and colleague, Dr Kerry Arundale.
What does this job entail?
Working with people. Talking to patients to get a clear understanding of their problems and their requirements/expectations. Some physical strength and co-ordination is needed for the massages and joint manipulations. You are mainly on your feet all day and it is quite a physical job, with taking a few notes in between and the occasional report to type. You need to review x-rays and scans and interpret some general pathological lab results, such as blood tests.
Why would a person come to see you?
Chiropractors treat a variety of ailments from sprained ankles to headaches and general back and neck aches. Basically, anyone who experiences muscle or joint pain anywhere in the body. Most sport injuries and postural issues are also covered. We also assess and treat infants and toddlers. We do a full physical examination and a range of orthopaedic and neurological tests to ensure treatment is safe and viable. Upon taking the history and doing the examination, we establish whether x-rays or any further investigations are required or refer to a specialist where necessary.
What are your working hours?
My personal working hours are generally 6am to 7pm, Monday to Friday, but my colleague and I try to share the early and late appointments. Generally you set your own hours based on the area you are in and the type of patients you see.
What are the mundane aspects?
ADMIN! Filling in forms, updating files and writing reports.
What are some of the personality attributes required in this career?
You definitely need to be a people’s person! You have to be friendly, understanding, and willing to listen to other people’s problems. You need to be professional yet caring and able to show empathy.
What are the different aspects a person could get involved with in this career field?
When you start your clinical years at university you can already decide what your preferences are or what you want to specialise in. It can be sport injuries, paediatrics, ergonomics, or even horses/animals (although the latter is a bit more difficult with a few restrictions). You can decide to run your own practice or be a locum and let someone else stress about the admin and finances. You can even open multiple practices and run a business where you have doctors working for you. There are also many short courses you can do on the side to further your education in a specific field or to improve your knowledge on a specific topic.
What are some of the huge no-nos in this industry?
As a chiropractor we believe in a conservative, gentle, and generally drug-free approach, hence it is not in our scope of practice to give out prescriptions or drugs or do any injections unless other qualifications have been obtained. We can advise on certain over-the-counter drugs or refer where necessary. Another big no-no is to get patients in too frequently for too long a period where treatment may be unnecessary or no longer required. We are not miracle workers so don’t claim to be able to do something we can’t. Don’t ever discuss your patients with your friends and colleagues – always act professional and confidential.
What has been the highlight of your career so far?
My highlight so far has definitely been the ability to grow my practice and growing with my patients, as well as getting to know them and seeing the difference I have made in their lives. I take pride in the fact that I run a very successful family practice and have started at the bottom in a new suburb with no patients or referrals and now see family members from grannies right down to grandchildren. I take my pregnant patients through their eight or nine months and then continue to assess and treat their newborns too. It’s amazing to see your business grow, but also to grow yourself and see your patients grow and excel.
Long-term success would definitely be to own or run your own practice or even to be in partnership with someone else.
What did you study to become a chiropractor?
You study a degree called MTech Chiropractic. This can only be studied at the University of KwaZulu-Natal or the University of Johannesburg. It takes roughly five to six years to complete, depending on how long you take to complete your research/thesis.
Is this a very stressful career?
No, I don’t believe so. It’s a pretty relaxed job and very rewarding. You do get your very busy days where you run around like a headless chicken trying to fit everyone in and still manage to grab a bite to eat in between, but I would say that it’s more busy than stressful.
What is the best way to get a foot in the door in this industry?
The best way is to expose yourself to as many opportunities as possible and meet as many people as you can and when you can. The more you promote yourself and what you do, the further you will go. Enter into general discussions anywhere and everywhere you go and don’t be shy to talk to people. As a student there are plenty of opportunities to get involved in school drives, sport days and charity events – you need to start early to get to know people and build relationships. Once you are qualified and able to treat, it just makes things so much easier.
What could you expect to earn in this career?
That purely depends on how hard you are willing to work. Going the extra mile for your patients is definitely key! As a locum chiropractor you can start off from R5,000 or R10,000 a month, depending on who you work for and what commission you earn. If you start up your own practice, this increases significantly and can range from R20,000 to R100,000 per month or more depending on the hours and the effort you are willing to put in. What you put in is what you get out. But don’t forget the initial start-up costs and other monthly expenses of running your own practice. Mostly your earnings increase each month as your patient base increases.
What are the benefits of this career?
Personally I think the biggest benefit is helping people. It is a very rewarding job and you go home feeling like you have made a difference in someone’s life and someone will be sleeping, training or working a little bit better because of you. There are other benefits too like working for yourself and setting your own hours, and even working from home.
What is the market like in terms of jobs and competition?
There are still far too few qualified and able chiropractors in South Africa. We definitely always need more enthusiastic doctors out there who are willing to work hard and educate not just their patients, but also the general public and anyone they come in contact with on the benefits of chiropractic treatment and a healthy and active lifestyle.
Any tips for teens who may want to pursue a career as a chiropractor?
It is a great profession and you really get the satisfaction of making a difference and helping people. Get in touch with your local chiropractor and ask to observe him or her to see what it actually entails. You can also contact or google the Chiropractic Association of South Africa for further information and aid, or visit the University of Johannesburg Chiropractic Clinic in Doornfontein. With regard to school and subjects, maths and science are a must.