What is Podiatric Medicine?

Podiatric Medicine is a field of medicine that strives to improve the overall health and well-being of patients by focusing on preventing, diagnosing, and treating conditions associated with the foot and ankle. Doctors of Podiatric Medicine (DPMs) are the only physicians and surgeons who exclusively train and specialize in treating the foot and ankle. Podiatrists are licensed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to diagnose and treat the foot and its related or governing structures by medical, surgical, or biomechanical means.

In addition to private practice, many podiatrists today are also members of group medical practices. Podiatrists serve on the staffs of hospitals and long-term care facilities, on the faculties of schools of medicine, as commissioned officers in the Armed Forces and the US Public Health Service, in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and in municipal health departments. The skills and expertise of podiatric physicians are increasingly in demand because disorders of the foot and ankle are among the most widespread and neglected health problems. Podiatrists treat people of all ages and are often the first medical specialists to diagnose systemic problems that affect the feet and ankles such as diabetes, gout, hypertension, immunodeficiencies, and arthritis.

Training of a Podiatrist

To enter a college of podiatric medicine, the student must first complete at least three years or 90 semester hours of college credit at an accredited institution. Biology, Chemistry, Organic Chemistry, Physics (all science courses require a lab) and English are among the required classes. Over 95% of the students who enter a college of podiatric medicine have a bachelor's degree. Many have also completed some graduate study. Before entering a college of podiatric medicine, the student must take the MCAT ( Medical College Acceptance Test).

Upon acceptance to a college of podiatric medicine, students will enter a 4-year program whose core curriculum is similar to that of other medical schools. During the first 2 years, students receive classroom instruction in basic sciences, including anatomy, biochemistry, pathology, and pharmacology. Third- and fourth-year students have clinical rotations in private practices, hospitals and clinics. During these rotations, they learn how to take general and podiatric histories, perform routine physical examinations, interpret tests and findings, make diagnoses, and perform therapeutic procedures.

Four years of podiatric medical school is followed by a hospital-based residency program that certifies these doctors to function as partners in the larger medical community. The residency program is 2-3 years in length. Specialized training is provided in lower extremity wound care, surgial procedures and reconstruction. Additional training is received during core clinical rotations in radiology, general internal medicine and general surgery rotations. Specialty medical rotations such as rheumatology, infectious disease, orthopedics and dermatology may be included. Often Podiatry clinics, manned by residents and faculty will provide much needed foot care to the community. Emphasis is placed on requirements and skills needed to qualify for podiatric medical and surgical boards.

What does a Podiatrist do?

Podiatrists diagnose lower extemity pathology such as tumors, ulcers, fractures, congenital and acquired deformities, skin and nail diseases. They make independent judgements, prescribe medications, utilize x-rays, MRI, CT, ultrasound, and other laboratory tests for diagnosis. Podiatrists treat conditions such as bunions, hammer toes, heel spurs, cysts, sprains, injuries, ingrown toenails, bone disorders, infections and fit corrective inserts (orthotics) that address walking patterns and relieve pain.