Becoming a podiatrist is a journey, not a destination. While every podiatrist will take the same fundamental steps to earn the Doctorate of Podiatric Medicine and complete residency, everyone’s path will be a little different. But in this article, we will attempt to illustrate what it is like to be a podiatrist, including what a typical day can look like as well as many other facets of being a podiatrist.
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But in this article, we will attempt to illustrate what it is like to be a podiatrist, including what a typical day can look like as well as many other facets of being a podiatrist.
Path to Becoming a Podiatrist
The path to becoming a podiatrist is much like that of becoming an allopathic/osteopathic physician. You take required prerequisites, take the MCAT, go to podiatry school, take your boards, and then move onto residency.
Podiatry school curriculum is much like that of medical school. Coursework between the two are very similar in the first two years. But podiatry school has extra courses that are more focused—an in depth lower extremity anatomy course and biomechanics classes focusing on the lower extremities.
The Job and Scope of Practice of Podiatrist
The job of a podiatrist is to diagnose and treat abnormalities of the feet and lower limbs. Podiatrists work to prevent disease of the feet and lower extremities as well.
The most common conditions podiatrists encounter are (but not limited to):
- plantar fasciitis
- plantar warts
- fractures of the foot/ankle, tendinitis
- pes planus (flat feet)
- pes cavus (high arched feet)
- ankle sprains
- hallux rigidus (extensive arthritis in the big toe joint)
- ankle arthritis
- ulcers on the feet/ankles/lower legs
- onychomycosis (toenail fungus)
- ingrown toenails
- peripheral vascular disease
The conditions you see will largely depend on the focus of your practice. If you join a group that is surgery orientated, you will likely see much lower extremity trauma and likely not as much routine foot care patients.
The scope of practice in podiatry is actually state-dependent. For example, in Florida podiatrists can perform surgery on the ankle whereas in New York, Mississippi and Louisiana podiatrists are unable to apply for ankle surgical privileges.
Day to Day Practice of a Podiatrist
The day to day practice of a podiatrist depends on the type of practice you join. If you want to perform surgery three days a week in private practice, for instance, make sure that your vision of your day to day work life is compatible with the practice’s day to day schedule.
For instance, there are practices out there that limit surgery days to once a week. Most practices will have you on staff at the hospitals near the offices you work. In some groups podiatrists will rotate call according to a set schedule. In other practices, a podiatrist will follow any patient in the hospital that she/he treats in the office.
There are also other practices out there that do not perform surgery at all. Another option to consider is working at nursing homes. Some podiatrists may also work in an office and also visit nursing homes.
Most podiatry jobs require you to finish your notes either on the day of service or the following day. However, this is really dependent on the practice you join. Some groups, for example, may allow you to carry a few notes into the following day. The contract will likely address how many notes can be carried over.
There are so many variations in the day to day life of a podiatrist depending on the type of practice.
Work Schedule, Salary, and Job Satisfaction
According to the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine’s College Information Book (2019-2020), in 2015, APMA members reported earning an average of $181,120 annually. Twelve percent of respondents earned $250,000 or more in the previous year, while 16.4% of practicing podiatric physicians reported earning less than $100,000. On average, a podiatrist earns 144,000 per year and works on average 40 hours per week according to the AACPM College Information Book.
In a 2014 practice survey conducted by the APMA, podiatric physicians reported treating approximately 100 patients per week. While some podiatrists can set their own schedule, many will have some evening responsibilities and may have to take consults on the weekends.
According to WebMD, doctors with the highest career satisfaction are dermatologists (63%) followed by pathologists and psychiatrists (both 57%). Those with the least satisfaction are internists (47%) and then nephrologists and general surgeons (48% and 49% respectively).
If they could do it all over again, 64% of doctors say they would still choose medicine as a career, but only 45% would choose the same specialty.
In comparison, podiatrist job satisfaction is 66%, and 83% said they find their job makes the world a better place or helps to make someone else’s life better.
Is Podiatry Unpopular Among People Looking to Become Doctors?
Podiatry is becoming more popular as a route when students are considering medical school. While some students attend MD and DO school not knowing what they wish to specialize in, podiatrists know their specific career track from the very start.
While some colleges may discuss podiatry as a medical career path option, it seems to not be as readily discussed as MD and DO options. As podiatry is starting to come more to the forefront as a medical specialty, it seems to be becoming more popular.
Having a “life” outside of work is becoming more popular among all physicians. This is another reason why medical students are drawn to podiatry as a profession. Most podiatrists tend to not have as many evening and weekend responsibilities as other medical specialties.
Podiatry Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employment of podiatrists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2018 to 2028, about as fast as the average for all occupations. As the U.S population ages, the number of people with mobility and foot-related problems will rise.
The growing rates of chronic conditions, such as diabetes and obesity, often lead to problems such as foot ulcers and poor circulation of the feet. An increase in foot and ankle pathology will require the addition of more podiatrists in private practice and on staff at hospitals.
Advantages of Podiatry
DPMs work in a specialty and industry with growing demand, declining supply, and formidable barriers to entry. The growing rates of chronic illness and the aging population will require the addition of podiatrists to treat these foot-related problems.
Podiatrists have the choice of entering solo private practice, working in a podiatry group practice, multi-specialty practice, or a hospital. Many group practices offer future partnership opportunities.
Another pro of podiatry is the average podiatric physician’s salary. It is in the top 5% nationally for earnings. This type of salary coupled with the growing demand for podiatrists makes podiatry a promising career choice.
An increasing number of medical students desire a work-life balance which draws many to the field of podiatry. While there are podiatry jobs available with intense call schedules and heavy surgical loads, there are also positions out there with limited weekend and evening obligations. There is something out there for every podiatrist!
Disadvantages of Podiatry
At this time, podiatrists do not have full parity with MDs and DOs. DPMs are held to the same standards as any medical or surgical specialist, but they are not accorded all the rights and privileges of one. This is partially because podiatry is an anatomically limited medical license profession. Scope of practice also varies from state to state.
The podiatry curriculum does not currently include courses and rotations in pediatrics, OBGYN nor psychiatry. If these courses were added, podiatric medical students could sit for the USMLE and/or COMLEX-USA.
In order to incorporate these courses into the curriculum it has been suggested that we eliminate biomechanics coursework. Podiatric medical students would have equivalent training by the addition of these courses but would sacrifice the essential ingredient of their training which makes them superior to MDs and DOs in the evaluation of foot and ankle pathologies.
Overall, the pros outweigh the cons in the field of podiatry. Even though podiatrists face challenges with declining reimbursements and increased “red tape”, there are challenges in any industry.
Many companies fear extinction because competitors have found a way to do the same things they do at a lower cost and even better. However, this is not the case in medicine. There will always be a need for medical experts to assess patients and perform the best treatment for the individual’s needs. There are also potential opportunities to create operational improvements designed to address lower fees and higher costs.
The anticipation of residency match day is stress all medical students experience. However, podiatry affords a type of certainty that other medical students do not have. Podiatrists know what their specialty is from the beginning and that can reduce a significant amount of stress.