Americans spend a lot of time standing on their feet. As all age groups of Americans become more active, foot care will become more important.

The human foot is very complex, containing 26 bones along with numerous muscles, nerves, ligaments, and blood vessels. One fourth of all bones in the human body are located in the feet, totaling 52 bones. Podiatrists, also known as doctors of podiatric medicine (DPMs), diagnose and treat disorders related to the feet.

Podiatrists treat ankle and foot injuries as well as infections. To treat foot and ankle problems, podiatrists prescribe drugs, perform surgeries, and develop therapies. Moreover, they prescribe corrective shoe inserts called orthotics, custom designed shoes, and strappings to correct foot deformities.

Podiatrists also order x-rays and laboratory tests to diagnose problems. Podiatrists serve a very important role since foot problems can indicate such debilitating diseases such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. Patients with diabetes usually suffer from foot ulcers and infections as a result of poor circulation. If podiatrists detect any of these diseases, they refer their clients to the appropriate specialists.

Most podiatrists run their own practice, but more are organizing group practices with other podiatrists and physicians. Certain podiatrists specialize in public health, primary care, orthopedics, or surgery. Podiatrists may also specialize in non board certified specialties such as sports medicine, pediatrics, diabetic foot care, geriatrics, radiology, and dermatology.

Podiatrists in private practice are responsible for running a business. They hire staff, maintain records, and perform administrative duties. Some publically speak and advertise about the benefits of foot care.

Work environment. Podiatrists usually work in small offices with a few staff members. They also spend time visiting patients in other health care facilities. Podiatrists with private practices enjoy flexible hours but often work evenings and weekends. Podiatrists treat few emergencies.

Career Training and Education
To become a podiatrist, you must complete a 4 year program at a podiatric medical school. During the first couple of years, podiatric medical students complete basic medical studies. During the final 2 years, they focus on patient care and podiatric curriculum.

As with all doctors, podiatric medical students are required to complete courses in immunology, pathology, microbiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, physiology, and anatomy. Additionally, they're immersed in sports medicine, orthopedics, podiatric pathology, lower extremity anatomy, and biomechanics.

Podiatric medical students gain real life experience at foot clinics, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities.

Following podiatric medical school, graduates complete 2-3 year residencies. State certification boards require podiatrists to spend at least 2 years in a residency. During residencies, podiatrists gain experience with emergency care, pediatrics, orthopedics, surgery, infectious disease, and internal medicine. Podiatrists completing 3 year residencies are trained in ankle and rear foot surgery.

Additional information about careers in podiatry can be obtained from these organizations:

  • American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine (AACPM)
  • American Podiatric Medical Students' Association
  • Student Doctor Network
  • Student National Medical Association

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