Podiatrist Career Guide

Overview

A podiatrist is a physician who specializes in health problems involving the foot, ankle and lower leg, including bone, muscle, skin and joint disorders. A podiatrist can diagnose illnesses, prescribe drugs, treat injuries, prescribe physical therapy and perform surgery. A podiatrist can also treat patients with problems like poor circulation, neurological disorders, gout and arthritis.

Because some ailments like diabetes initially manifest themselves through symptoms involving the feet or ankles, podiatrists sometimes detect serious health issues that might have otherwise gone undetected. Many podiatrists have their own private practice with a small support staff. Those who plan to pursue this course should consider taking coursework in business management and marketing.

More and more podiatrists are starting to form group practices with other physicians in order to increase efficiency. Other podiatrists work for hospitals, health maintenance organizations (HMOs), the military or a university.

Most podiatrists work full-time, and some of them might have to spend time on call. Because podiatry seldom involves emergency situations, a podiatrist’s hours are fairly flexible in comparison with some physicians’, allowing time for family outings; this is especially true for podiatrists in private practice.

There are various specializations in podiatry:

  • Surgery—commonly used to remove bone spurs, and sometimes to reconstruct a foot or ankle.
  • Orthopedics—the treatment of abnormal foot or leg structure through special footwear, orthotic devices or physical therapy.
  • Primary care—the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of podiatric ailments in relation to the complete health care environment.
  • Public health.
  • Sports medicine—the application of podiatry to athletes.
  • Pediatrics—the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of foot and lower leg problems in children.
  • Dermatology—the treatment of skin and nail problems in feet and ankles.
  • Geriatrics—the treatment of foot and lower leg problems in the elderly.
  • Diabetic foot care—the treatment of wounds of the lower extremity that are related to diabetes.

Qualities for becoming a podiatrist include being adept at working with others and being able to develop a good rapport with patients. Podiatrists should also be able to communicate medical terminology in a manner that patients can understand clearly.

Podiatrists often spend long periods of time squatting or standing, so they must become acclimated to this and be able to counteract any negative effects from it.

Other Job Duties

Podiatrists can treat foot problems like corns, bunions, heel spurs, arch problems, infections, calluses and deformities, and can deal with foot problems springing from diseases like diabetes. They can design plaster casts with strapping that can help correct deformities, and can design custom-made shoes. They can also fit orthotic shoe inserts that can help correct foot abnormalities.

Typically, a podiatrist first listens to the patient’s concerns about his or her condition and then physically examples the area. A podiatrist might also take x-rays or run laboratory tests that can aid in the diagnosis. The podiatrist might then treat the patient with surgery, medications, orthotics or some other remedy. The podiatrist might instead refer the patient to a specialist, especially when a disease like diabetes in discovered by the podiatrist.

Podiatrists are trained to treat deformities using mechanical methods like whirlpool treatments or paraffin baths. They can also use electrical methods like short wave or low voltage currents.

Another part of the job is to keep up with the latest medical findings concerning podiatry and to participate in continuing education classes. Podiatrists often need to spend time in educating patients or the public in the importance of preventative care and early intervention.

Podiatrists with their own practice might need to spend time in business activities like hiring employees, managing inventory and keeping books.

Career Outlook

The Department of Labor projects that the employment of podiatrists will increase by 20% from 2010 to 2020, which is a faster-than-average rate for all occupations.

Salary Prospects

According to figures from the Department of Labor, the 2010 median podiatrist’s wage was $56.75 per hour or $118,030 per year. Since the demand for podiatrists is growing at a rate higher than the national average, these salary numbers will probably rise in the coming years.
Educational Requirements

Podiatrists need to complete a four-year undergraduate program to obtain a bachelor’s degree, including lab courses in chemistry, biology and physics. Because acceptance into any medical school is competitive, students need to achieve good grades to gain acceptance. Upon graduation, a prospective podiatrist must obtain a four-year postgraduate degree in podiatry, taking courses in subjects like pharmacology, anatomy and disease pathology.

After attaining a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree, the podiatrist must then serve a three-year medical and surgical residency, receiving additional training in a clinical setting.

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