Podiatrists (foot doctors) specialize in medical care of the foot, ankle and lower leg. They must have a doctor of podiatric medicine (D.P.M.) degree from a college of podiatric medicine. Podiatrists are sometimes referred to as foot doctors, foot and ankle surgeons, or podiatric surgeons. They must pass written and oral board examinations and must obtain a state license to practice podiatric medicine. Podiatrists usually work in private practices, hospitals, and clinics, and may become professors at colleges of podiatric medicine, department chiefs, and hospital administrators.
Podiatrists typically have the following duties:
- Assess the condition of a patient’s feet, ankles, or lower legs by reviewing the medical history, listening to the patient’s concerns, and performing a physical examination
- Diagnose foot, ankle, and lower-leg problems through physical exams, x rays, medical laboratory tests, and other methods
- Provide treatment for foot, ankle, and lower leg ailments, such as prescribing special shoe inserts
- Perform foot and ankle surgeries, such as removing bone spurs and correcting foot and ankle deformities
- Prescribe medications
- Refer patients to other physicians or specialists if they detect larger health problems, such as diabetes
How are Podiatrists Trained?
Training for podiatric medicine differs from country to country, but it will usually include a college course of at least four years. In the US, the candidate must attend a podiatric medical school. Once the 4-year podiatric course is completed, the candidate will undergo a surgical-based residency. Completion of studies and residency will qualify the candidate for board certification. The most common boards providing specialty certification are:
- American Board of Podiatric Orthopedics and Primary Podiatric Medicine
- American Board of Podiatric Surgery
- American Board of Podiatric Medical Specialties
Podiatrists held about 10,700 jobs in 2017 in the US. Most podiatrists work in offices of podiatry, either on their own or with other podiatrists. Some of them work in group practices with other physicians or specialists. Others work in private and public hospitals and outpatient care centers. About 14 percent of podiatrists were self-employed in 2012.
What Do Podiatrists Do?
Podiatrists offer a wide range of medical services. However, these services are confined only to the diagnosis and treatment of foot diseases or related conditions, such as foot injuries. When diagnosing a condition, the podiatrists may perform a physical examination, compile a medical history, and analyze an x-ray. When the condition has been determined, the podiatrist will further decide on a method of treatment. This can include performing surgeries, prescribing medicines, setting fractures, or ordering physical therapy sessions for the patient. Podiatrists are often consulted to provide treatment to high-risk patients, such as the elderly who may be at risk of losing their feet or lower limbs due to amputation.
Employment of podiatrists is projected to grow 23 percent from 2012 to 2022. This is much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 2,400 new jobs over the 10-year period.
As the U.S. population both ages and increases, the number of people expected to have mobility and foot-related problems will rise. Chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity also may limit mobility of those with these conditions, and lead to problems such as poor circulation in the feet and lower extremities. More podiatrists will be needed to provide care for these patients.
Job prospects for trained podiatrists should be very good given that there are a limited number of colleges of podiatry. Moreover, the retirement of currently practicing podiatrists in the coming years is expected to increase the number of job openings for podiatrists.