Although foot care has been documented as early as 2400 B.C., the specialty of podiatry was not officially recognized until the early 1900’s when the first college of podiatry was established. Before then, podiatry was considered to be independent of general organized medical practice. However, it is now considered to be an essential component in the health care industry.

Podiatrist Job Description

A podiatrist (DPM or Doctor of Podiatry Medicine) is a doctor that specializes in the care of the foot and ankle. This includes diabetic foot care, sports injuries, corrective orthotics, bunion surgery and callous removal. Their primary concern is any abnormality of the lower extremities which would hinder full mobility.

Podiatrists routinely perform surgical procedures on the feet to correct abnormal bone structure. Bunions and hammer toes are two of the conditions that often require reconstructive surgery. Ingrown toenails, as well as toenail removal, are considered minor surgical procedures which are performed in the office.

The practice of podiatry draws from various fields of medical specialties. In order to diagnose and treat his patients correctly, the podiatrist must have experience in surgery, geriatrics, diabetes, orthopedics, vascular disease and sports medicine. In fact, podiatrists are often the first physicians to note the signs of diabetes and vascular disease in their patients, since these chronic illnesses usually affect the feet. Therefore, a complete understanding of other medical fields is necessary.

Job Duties of a Podiatrist:
  • Diagnose disorders of the feet and ankles such as bunions, calluses, corns, fungal infection of the skin or nails, ankle pronation, gait abnormalities, heel spurs, arch deformities and ingrown toenails
  • Diabetic foot care such as nail trims, callus removal, peripheral neuropathy testing, skin ulcer treatment and amputation.
  • Make foot casts for custom orthotics
  • Prescribe corrective shoes and braces to treat gait and balance issues
  • Consult with patients about preventative foot care
  • Refer patients to other medical specialists if symptoms suggest severe illnesses such as diabetes, heart or kidney disease

How to Become a Podiatrist

The training required to be a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) is similar to that of other physicians. They must first complete a four year bachelor’s degree program. This program should have a science related emphasis such as pre-med, biology or public health. After the bachelor’s degree is obtained, the prospective podiatrist must enter a four year DPM degree program in an accredited college of podiatry. Currently, there are 9 colleges of podiatric medicine accredited by the Council on Podiatric Medical Education. This program combines courses in anatomy, pathology and chemistry with practical training in diagnostics and physical exams.

Once these two programs are successfully completed, the student will enter a three year residency program in a clinic or hospital. The podiatric medical and surgical residency (PMSR) program gives the DPM hands on experience in general medicine, anesthesiology, infectious disease and surgery. This experience determines the competency level of the prospective podiatrist.

Podiatrist Certification

Upon completion of the residency program, most states require a written and oral exam (American Podiatric Medical Licensing Exam) for licensure.  The state certification board will verify that the applicant has successfully completed all of the educational requirements. The applicant submits the required fee and the state will then issue the license to practice. The American Board of Podiatric Surgery is responsible for certifying podiatry surgeons, and the American Board of Podiatric Medicine is responsible for certifying primary care podiatrists.

Podiatrist Salary

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Podiatrist Job Description Summary

Here is a short recap of the podiatrist job description:
  • Diagnose and treat diseases relating to the foot and ankle
  • Work with other physicians
  • 4 year bachelor’s degree
  • 4 year DPM degree program
  • 3 additional years of residency program
  • Must be licensed to practice
  • 18% employment growth by 2022