A Podiatrist is a healthcare professional responsible for treating health problems relating to the feet, ankles or lower legs. In doing so, these professionals document health histories, perform physical examinations, take x-rays, diagnose illnesses, treat injuries, and when necessary perform surgery. To help treat patients’ podiatric issues these professionals can also prescribe special shoe inserts or medications.
To ensure that patients are receiving the most thorough and effective care, Podiatrists may consult with the patient’s Family Physician or Surgeon, or refer them to other specialists as needed. Of course, Podiatrists regularly provide patients with general wellness tips and techniques. Depending on their employer and professional goals, these individuals may also choose to enter research or academia.
“My career as a Podiatrist has been a very rewarding one,” Hai-En Peng, DPM, FACFAS, a Podiatrist practicing in California, stated. “I’m a specialist in the area of treating the foot and the ankle. I pretty much function as a Foot and Ankle Orthopedist doing a variety of conservative treatments alongside surgical interventions.”
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Education & Training
To become a Podiatrist, professionals must first pursue a Bachelor’s Degree in a related science, taking courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy and physics. Roughly a year before graduating from an undergraduate program, learners should take their Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Taking the exam early enables students to retake it should their scores not meet their intended expectations.
Once a learner has graduated from an undergraduate degree program and secured their MCAT score, they can apply to their desired medical schools and subsequent Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) programs. These programs typically take an additional four years to complete and include graduate instruction on physiology, anatomy, pharmacology, pathology and other related subjects. During the final 2 years of a DPM program, learners will gain supervised experience through direct clinical rotations.
After graduation from a DPM program, learners must additionally complete a 4-year podiatric medicine and surgery (PMSR) residency program within a hospital setting. A residency will include both non-invasive and surgical experiences. Completing a fellowship after a residency is also possible for those hoping to enter more specialized areas of podiatric healthcare.
Lastly, all Podiatrists must become licensed by passing the American Podiatric Medical Licensing Exam (APMLE), offered by the National Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners. Additional state-specific exams may be required as well, and certification is available through the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery, the American Board of Podiatric Medicine and the American Board of Multiple Specialties in Podiatry. Learn about other surgery careers today!
“I spent four years in college, four years in podiatry school and three years in a surgical residency. Some Podiatrists also choose to pursue one to two years of fellowship training,” Peng confirmed. “The biggest challenges in entering these programs included preparing for the Medical College Admission Test, taking the weekly exams in medical school, and the rigorous training required during residency.”
One way to advance in a career as a Podiatrist is to establish and open a private practice, however, this is only recommended for those willing to take on managerial responsibilities in addition to their patient-care responsibilities. In private practice, the Podiatrists must take charge of human resources, managerial coordination, inventory management and in addition, business marketing and accounting oversight.
“There are many different ways to advance your Podiatrist career,” Peng emphasized. “One of which involves completing more fellowship training and becoming involved in the major national podiatry organizations, both in surgery and non-surgery.”
Peng explained that being involved in national organizations can lead to speaking opportunities and attendance at national conferences. Ultimately, invitations to such conferences leads to networking and additional professional development opportunities for career advancement.
Experience & Skills
To be an effective Podiatrist, these professionals must have strong critical-thinking skills. This ability enables Podiatrists to correctly diagnose patients and develop treatment plans. Effective interpersonal and communication skills are crucial as Podiatrists must interact not only with patients but also with other healthcare professionals, including Radiologic Technologists, Anesthesiologists and Physical Therapists. Oftentimes, patients who are experiencing podiatric problems are concerned or fearful, and a Podiatrist will need to help calm their fears while, at the same time, working towards care solutions.
“The best skill to have as a Podiatrist is good bedside manner,” Peng stressed. “A great bedside manner can make or break a patient visit. You can have great surgical skills but a terrible bedside manner and it will make seeing more patients difficult.”
Podiatrists should be compassionate, kind and empathetic to patients. Podiatrists may care for patients who are in pain and therefore, they need to be supportive and caring towards their patients. They should be organized and detail-oriented professionals, ensuring that all diagnoses are accurate and treatments are performed with absolute precision. This is especially true when performing surgeries, where even the smallest error, could potentially have severe consequences.
“There’s no set personality type a professional needs to become a Podiatrist,” Peng argued, “but these professionals certainly have to be willing to take care of people and provide care willingly regardless of how the patient acts.”
The majority of Podiatrists are employed full-time, and may need to work evenings or weekends to accommodate patient availability. In hospital settings, these professionals can additionally be required to work holidays, or to be on-call, as these facilities always remain open. While there are additional challenges of running one’s own practice, self employed Podiatrists have much greater control of what hours they choose to work.
“For me, I don’t take much call after-hours for the emergency room, just for my own practice which is not much,” Peng explained. “I start my day at 8 am and end at 5 pm, seeing on average 25 to 30 patients a day. Then I go home at a normal time to see my family.”
Now is a great time to begin the path to becoming a Podiatrist! Why? Over the next decade, this occupation is projected to grow an additional 6 percent. This growth can largely be attributed to an aging baby boomer population, who will encounter a greater number of mobility and foot-related problems. Other chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes are also increasing the demand for podiatry.
The majority of Podiatrists are employed by health practitioners offices, but also through other Physicians, federal and state governments, or local and private hospitals. As previously discussed, being self-employed and owning and operating one’s own practice is also an option for Podiatrists. States with the highest employment level in this occupation are New York, Florida, California, Ohio and Texas.
“There will always be feet around to treat,” Peng noted. “There are plenty of opportunities around and I recommend practicing in an area where you want to live long-term. During the last year of residency is when graduating residents start looking for those permanent positions.”
The median annual wage for Podiatrists is $126,240. While the lowest 10 percent of earners make less than $54,150, the highest earning 10 percent make more than $208,000. Thus, this can be an extremely lucrative profession! The top paying employers of Podiatrists are Physicians offices, the federal government and, finally, local, state and private hospitals. The top paying state for this occupation is Hawaii followed by Nebraska, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Arkansas.
“The earning potential as a Podiatrist is tremendous depending on the position and employer,” Peng stated. “Whether a professional chooses to join a practice, a multi-specialty group, an orthopedic group or to start their own practice will greatly impact their earnings, especially right out of school.”
Unions, Groups and Associations
The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) is an organization and leading resource centered around foot and ankle health information. The mission of the APMA is to promote foot and ankle health, member service and professional excellence. The organization also wishes to continue to advance the growth and stability of podiatric medicine through increasing awareness, public education and legislative advocacy.
The National Podiatric Medical Association (NPMA) is an organization designed to enhance minority visibility in colleges of medicine and the profession, to secure supplemental funding for increasing the costs of podiatric medical education and to educate the community concerning podiatric medical care. The NPMA also hopes to affect positive relationships within the profession and service all humanity in regards to podiatry.
The American Society of Podiatric Surgeons (ASPS) is an organization with the purpose of advancing the knowledge and skills of Podiatrists in the area of surgery of the foot, ankle and lower leg. ASPS intends to provide valued expertise and information in advocating for Podiatric Surgeons.
The American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons (ACFAS) is an organization whose mission is to advance the competency of Foot and Ankle Surgeons and the care of their patients by providing continuing education, publishing research and serving as a source of information to the public.
- Research the career by speaking with a Career Counselor
- Work towards obtaining an undergraduate degree
- Shadow a Podiatrist
- Take the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) and apply to schools
All statistics are provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Meet the professional: Hai-En Peng, DPM, FACFAS
Practice: Align Foot and Ankle Center Inc.
Location: Camarillo, CA
What is the single biggest suggestion you would give to someone wanting to get into this career?
“My best advice to a prospective student is to go visit and shadow a local Podiatrist(s) to get a feel of what we do on a daily basis. Ask the Podiatrist questions so you get a feel of what the profession entails and all of the pros and cons.”
What’s the number one mistake people make when trying to get into this career?
“The biggest mistake someone could make in this career is having expectations that the profession is a certain way. The majority of Podiatrists in this country are generalists and do minimal amounts of surgery. Not all Podiatrists coming out are big shot foot & ankle surgeons that can fix anything under the sun. They need to do trained in all aspects of foot and ankle care and not just do surgeries.
What is the question people should ask about this career but rarely do?
“What is the scope of training as a Podiatrist and what can they treat?”
Why did you choose to become a Podiatrist?
“I became a Podiatrist because all of my other medical door options had closed. I’ve always wanted to become a Physician to have the ability to change people’s lives medically. Even though the standard medical route didn’t work out for me, I am extremely happy and blessed to be where I am now. I wouldn’t trade this career in healthcare in for anything else!”
If you could describe in one word what makes you successful, what would it be?
Credentialing organization: National Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners