Definition and Overview

A Podiatrist is a doctor who specializes in podiatric medicine, a branch of medicine dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment, or surgery of the feet, ankles, and the lower extremities. Podiatrists are sometimes referred to as "foot doctors."

In some countries, podiatrists specialize only in the diagnosis and treatment of foot conditions, but without using surgery. However, podiatrists who hold a title of Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M) are also trained in surgical treatments.

Podiatrists also have specialties such as:

  • Dermatological Podiatrist – Podiatrists who specialize in skin conditions that affect the foot such as dermatitis, corns, fungus, warts, and calluses.

  • Gerontological Podiatrist – Podiatrists who specialize in the treatment of foot conditions that affect the elderly including arthritis, circulatory disorders, nerve issues, and diabetes.

  • Podiatric Diabetologist – Podiatrists that focus on foot conditions brought about by diabetes.

  • Podopaediatrics – specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of foot conditions that affect children.

  • Podiatric Oncologists – Podiatrists who focus on foot conditions that involve cancer.

  • General Podiatric Physician – Specializes in the diagnosis and treatment of general conditions of the foot

  • Consultant Podiatric Surgeons – Podiatrists who are qualified to perform surgeries

  • Podiatric Sports Physician – Specializes in sports-related foot conditions.

What do podiatrists do?

Podiatrists, depending on their specialties in the field, offer a wide range of medical services. However, these services are confined only to the diagnosis and treatment of foot diseases or related conditions, such as foot injuries.

When diagnosing a condition, the podiatrists may perform a physical examination, compile a medical history, and analyze an x-ray or MRI. When the condition has been determined, the podiatrist will decide on a method of treatment. This can include performing surgeries, prescribing medicines, setting fractures, prescribing custom-made shoes, or ordering physical therapy sessions for the patient.

Podiatrists are often consulted to provide treatment to high-risk patients, such as the elderly who may be at risk of losing their feet or lower limbs due to amputation.

How are podiatrists trained?

Training for podiatric medicine differs from country to country, but it will usually include a college course of not less than four years. In the US, the candidate must attend a podiatric medical school. Once the 4-year podiatric course is completed, the candidate will undergo a surgical-based residency. Completion of studies and residency will qualify the candidate for board certification. The most common boards providing specialty certification are:

  • American Board of Podiatric Orthopedics and Primary Podiatric Medicine
  • American Board of Podiatric Surgery
  • American Board of Podiatric Medical Specialties

Podiatrist versus Orthopedist

If you have a problem with your feet, it could be difficult to decide whether to see a podiatrist or an orthopedist. An orthopedist also deals with any condition involving the bones to include injuries or treatment of diseases. There are many similarities between the two professions than there are differences.

The two professions are similar in the length of education. Both a podiatrist and an orthopedist need to complete four years of medical school. A podiatrist will receive a title of DPM while an orthopedist will be an MD. Both professions will then need to complete a surgical residency.

However, you should note that a podiatrist specializes in conditions that involve the feet and lower extremities. This could be a factor in making your decision. Orthopedists may choose to specialize in the foot, and these programs will take around six months to 1 year to complete. When it comes to board certifications, there is no certification in a foot specialty in orthopedics; the board certification is only on general orthopedics.

Despite the similarities and differences, your decision should be based primarily on which doctor you can trust. As in any medical specialty, there are good podiatrists and those that excel in the field. This is the same in orthopedics. If you have reasons to trust one over the other, you should consider those when making your choice.

In some cases, your primary care physician will decide whether to refer you to a podiatrist or an orthopedist. If this were the case, you would then need to trust the decision of your physician.

References:

  • American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons
  • American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine
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