Not everyone with the desire to heal patients wants to go to medical school. While podiatry school is certainly no cakewalk, its narrowed focus is attractive to prospective doctors; it’s a growing field with abundant jobs, and one that can offer a coveted work-life balance that might not be available to, say, an emergency-medicine specialist.
We spoke to Dr. Dyane Tower, a practicing podiatrist and director of clinical affairs at the American Podiatric Medical Association, to find out more about the field.
What does a podiatrist do?
A podiatrist is a physician who diagnoses and treats conditions of the foot, ankle and sometimes portions of the lower leg.
“They see anything from newborns with deformities like clubfoot all the way up to people towards the end of their life who need help taking care of their feet,” Tower says.
On a given day, a podiatrist might prescribe orthotic shoes for diabetic patients, treat injuries from sports or activities or even do something as simple as trim toenails.
What schooling do you need?
After completing an undergraduate degree, prospective podiatrists should begin by applying to any of the nine four-year podiatric medical schools in the country, says Tower.
Once they’ve earned their doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) degree, the next step is to complete a residency-training program.
“These are typically three years long, and teach students how to do any kind of surgical procedure that you could ever imagine needing to do on somebody’s foot, ankle or lower leg,” Tower says.
Training doesn’t end there. Many students go on to complete one-year fellowships in a specialized field. “Maybe they’re interested in sports medicine, and go work in an area where for that year they’re seeing only athletic injuries,” says Tower. “There are opportunities in trauma, reconstruction, diabetic limb salvage, any subspecialty within podiatry that you could probably envision— there is a fellowship in that area.”
What’s the typical salary?
The median annual salary for a podiatrist is $144,110 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The best-paid earned $182,420 in 2016 while the lowest-paid made $48,830.
Is it hard to find employment?
The need for podiatrists is expected to increase as baby boomers age, says Tower. “With that increase in age comes an increase in things like diabetes, heart disease and vascular disease,” she says. “Things of that nature all have an effect on the feet and legs, which makes podiatrists’ role in the health-care system very important.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that by 2024, podiatry jobs are on track to grow 14 percent from 2014, resulting in 1,400 new jobs.
One of the great things about this profession is the variety of patients and conditions you get to treat in a single day, says Tower. “You might see somebody for a skin problem in the morning, and later that evening be treating an athlete with an overuse injury and thinking about the biomechanics behind their functioning and the structure of their foot,” she says. “It’s really nice to be able to use the breadth of information that we learn throughout our careers all at the same time.”
There’s also the satisfaction that comes with being able to alleviate patients’ pain. Whether they receive an immediate injection or leave the office with an insert, “knowing that I was able to do something to make them feel better is always extremely gratifying,” she says.
Prospective podiatrists should consider the high cost of education, says Tower.
And while taking out loans to pay for medical school isn’t always ideal, being able to take care of patients and see the appreciation they show in return certainly is, she says. In the end, Tower says, “it’s worth going through the process to be able to be part of such a great profession.”