Podiatry is a medical specialization that focuses on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of foot and ankle disorders related to disease or illness. In addition to muscles, nerves, ligaments and blood vessels, the feet contain about one-fourth of all of the bones in the human body. Because the human foot has a complex interrelationship with the rest of the human body, podiatrists often are the first to detect certain serious conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The Work: According to the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine, common activities of podiatrists are the following:
- Diagnose foot ailments such as tumors, ulcers, fractures, skin or nail diseases, and congenital or acquired deformity such as weak feet and foot imbalance
- Use innovative methods to treat conditions such as corns, calluses, bunions, heel spurs, ingrown toenails, arch problems, shortened tendons, cysts bone disorders, and abscesses
- Design corrective orthotics, plaster casts and strappings to correct deformities
- Design flexible casting for immobilization of foot and ankle fractures, sprains, or other injuries
- Correct walking patterns and balance and promote the overall stability to move about more efficiently and comfortably
- Provide individual consultations to patients concerning continued treatment of disorders and preventive foot care
- Refer patients to other physicians when symptoms observed in the feet indicate disorders, such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, or kidney disease
The Work Setting: Most podiatrists work in their own clinical office - either individually, with one or more other podiatrists, or in a multispecialty group practice. They may contract with managed care organizations; visit patients in nursing homes; perform surgery in hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers; and work for a variety of entities including municipal health departments, the armed forces, and health professions schools.
Entry Into Field: All states and the District of Columbia require a license to practice podiatric medicine. Each state has its own licensing requirements, although many honor the licensure of other states. Applicants for licensure must be graduates of an accredited college of podiatric medicine, must pass the National Board of Podiatric Medical Examination in the second and fourth year of podiatric school, and in most states must complete a residency program of at least two years.
Education: There are seven accredited schools of podiatric medicine in the United States (none in Virginia, but schools nearby in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York, and Florida). Podiatric colleges require a four-year curriculum with a core that is similar to other medical schools. The first two years is largely classroom instruction in the basic sciences, including anatomy, chemistry, pathology, and pharmacology. The second two years consists of clinical rotations in private practices, clinics, and hospitals. Upon graduation as a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), graduates serve a two to four year residency in which they receive advanced training in podiatry, surgery, anesthesiology, internal medicine, pathology, radiology, emergency medicine, and orthopedic and general surgery.
The Career: The median annual salary for salaried podiatrists in 2004 was $94,000. The median net income for all podiatrists in 2004 was $113,000.
Job Outlook: Excellent. Employment of podiatrists is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2012.