Did you know that nearly 25 percent of all the bones in the human body are located inside the feet? Perhaps it's due to the complexity of the human foot – or the fact that more Americans are seeking entertainment options outdoors, but 75 percent of American's experience some sort of serious foot injury at some point during their lives. It's due to these facts that the need for highly qualified Podiatrists continues to grow. And for those healthcare professionals that seek out how to become a Podiatrist, and accomplish their mission; the rewards can be lucrative.
What is a Podiatrist?
Podiatrists or Doctors of Podiatry are responsible for diagnosing illnesses, treating injuries and performing surgery involving the feet, ankles or lower legs. These medical professionals prescribe medications and encourage physical therapy to provide rehabilitation to people that experience foot-related injuries. They also set fractures, help with balance and pain issues and perform surgery.
Due to the complexity of the human body, and the fact they take a tremendous pounding every day, the feet are often the first area to exhibit signs of more dangerous systemic conditions like heart disease and diabetes. Its essential podiatrists know how to identify indicators. Podiatrists also work with Primary Care Physicians as a part of the overall care program for people with cardiac conditions and diabetes. They may also conduct research, teach educational courses or author journal articles.
Understanding the Educational Path to Become a Podiatrist
A four-year Doctor of Podiatric Medicine degree followed by a 2-3 year residency is the primary educational requirements for a profession as a licensed podiatrist. However, the educational path begins by receiving a Bachelor's Degree from an accredited college or university.
Nationally, there are only nine schools accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine, so admissions are highly competitive. Aspiring Podiatrists should prepare for stiff competition by becoming well-rounded students and excelling in the sciences as well as in communications.
Other crucial qualities for future podiatrists include leadership, empathy and community involvement, as these are essential for podiatric school admissions. Building this background and skill set are often the focus of core educational study during college.
Educational Path of a Podiatrist
Earn a bachelor's degree.
A bachelor’s degree is the first higher-education step toward becoming a Podiatrist. Although candidates come from a broad range of undergraduate majors, students should complete courses the American Association of Podiatric Medical Colleges found most accredited schools require as prerequisites: biology, chemistry, physics, written and oral communications.
During their undergraduate degree, students wanting to gain an edge in the competitive admissions pool would benefit from taking career and advanced education oriented steps like joining pre-medical organizations, completing community service, shadowing podiatrists and studying for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test). Before graduating, a candidate should apply to a College of Podiatric Medicine.
Complete an Accredited Doctor of Podiatric Medicine Degree
Much like in traditional medical school, students spend the first two years primarily in the classroom taking courses such as anatomy, pathology, pharmacology and pathology. The third and fourth years are dedicated to podiatry-specific clinical rotations, exposing students to different types of practices and specialties. During clinical rotations, students learn how to effectively perform physical exams, administer and interpret diagnostic tests, diagnose diseases and provide treatment.
Complete a Residency
Following podiatry school, licensure candidates should complete a 2-4 year residency. Residencies provide advanced training and allow for more hands-on experience, including surgery. According to the American Board of Podiatric Medicine, residents focus on a variety of areas and how they relate to the bodies lower extremities; for example, biomechanics, orthopedics, wound care, medicine and surgery
Secure a license. Licensing requirements vary by state, but many states will grant reciprocity to individuals licensed in other states. Typically, license applicants need to successfully pass both written and oral exams (Health Communities 2015). Continuing Medical Education is required for license renewal.
Become board certified. While not required for legal practice, the American Board of Podiatric Medicine has found that hospitals, surgery centers and insurance carriers are increasingly beginning to require Podiatric board certification. Podiatrists can become board certified through further training and passing the Board exam. Certifying bodies include the American Board of Podiatric Medicine and the American Society of Podiatric Surgeons.
Understanding the Career Path of a Podiatrist
Most podiatrists work in private or group practice. Some work in hospital and outpatient-care facilities. Given the high need for podiatrists with the aging population, Podiatrist can also often be found in extend-care facilities and nursing homes. Although most Podiatrists practice more generally, some specialize in areas such as sports medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, radiology, geriatrics, surgery, and diabetic foot care.
Professional organizations can be used as a means for networking, community service, think tanks, research, continued education and specialized learning. For a specialty like Podiatry, the need to network with fellow specialists, product vendors, pharmaceutical companies and other health care providers is especially positive. Podiatrists should consider joining one or more of the following niche organizations:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2014) reports the average salary for a U.S. podiatrist is $137,480, and the median pay is $116,440.
With more people being diagnosed with Type II Diabetes every day, the need for qualified podiatrists is increasing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for podiatrists are expected to grow 23 percent between 2012 and 2022, which the BLS classifies as much faster than average. The aging population is also expected to spur an increase in demand for medical and surgical care of the ankle and foot.