Learn About Being a Podiatrist
What does a podiatrist do?
Podiatrists are doctors that diagnose and treat foot and ankle injuries and conditions. The issues they might treat include sprains, fractures, arthritis, warts, corns, calluses, cysts, ingrown toenails, bone spurs, flat feet, deformities, diabetes complications and more. Some podiatrists also perform surgery while others choose to specialize in a certain area, such as sports medicine, pediatrics, dermatology or geriatrics. Podiatrists’ job responsibilities might include:
- Meeting with patients and performing physical exams
- Ordering X-rays and laboratory tests to diagnose issues
- Prescribing special shoes, arch support and inserts to relieve pain or improve mobility
- Prescribing medications
- Advising how to rehabilitate injuries or properly care for feet and ankles
- Doing research and reading about the latest podiatry advances
- Collaborating with patients’ main doctors or other specialists as needed
Podiatrists’ salaries depend on their years of experience and location. Podiatrists who run their own practices might earn more than those employed by care centers and hospitals. For the most up-to-date salary information from Indeed, click on the salary link.
- Common salary in the U.S.: $115,792 per year
- Some salaries range from $29,000 to $260,000 per year.
Podiatrists must have a medical degree, complete a residency and get licensed by their state to practice legally.
Podiatrists must earn their bachelor’s degree in a pre-medical or science subject such as biology or chemistry to get into medical school. Then they must earn a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) degree. Because very few colleges offer Council on Podiatric Medical Education-accredited D.P.M. degrees, these programs are extremely competitive.
It takes four years to get a D.P.M. Students spend the first two years doing laboratory work and taking classes on medical topics such as anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, pathology and immunology. They spend their last two years doing supervised clinical work and patient care.
Once podiatrists graduate from medical school with their D.P.M., they must complete a podiatric medicine and surgery residency (PMSR) program at a hospital. These programs typically take three years to complete. During this time, podiatrists can learn specialized skills such as surgery, pediatrics, diabetic foot care, infectious diseases and more.
All podiatrists must be licensed by the National Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners. To get licensed, they must apply for, study for and pass the American Podiatric Medical Licensing Exam (APMLE). Depending on the state, they might also need to pass a state licensing exam.
Podiatrists do not need to be certified to get hired but can benefit from board certification by organizations such as:
American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery, which offers certification in Foot Surgery and Reconstructive Rearfoot/Ankle Surgery.
American Board of Podiatric Medicine, which offers certification in Podiatric Medicine and Orthopedics.
American Board of Multiple Specialties in Podiatry, which offers six certifications: Diabetic Foot Wounds, Primary Care in Podiatric Medicine, Foot and Ankle Surgery, Limb Preservation and Salvage, Lower Extremity Geriatric Medicine and Podiatric Sports Medicine.
All certifications require applicants to meet education and experience requirements and pass an exam, then complete a certain number of continuing education hours to maintain certification.
Podiatrists are often friendly and caring and enjoy helping people. They might also be curious and enjoy solving challenging problems. Skills podiatrists need to succeed include:
Interpersonal skills: Because podiatrists spend a lot of time with their patients, they should be good listeners and communicators. They must be able to explain complex medical issues in simple terms. They should also be approachable and understanding, particularly with nervous patients.
Compassion: Podiatrists should be empathetic and understanding, as many of their patients are in pain or dealing with challenging diseases such as diabetes.
Critical thinking: Podiatrists must analyze patients’ symptoms, complaints and medical history to make a correct diagnosis and recommend the best treatment.
Dexterity: Podiatrists must be good with their hands because they work with medical and surgical instruments. Mistakes can put their patients’ well-being as well as their careers at risk.
Podiatrist work environment
Podiatrists might work in private or group practices with other doctors and medical professionals. They might also work in hospitals, universities, government or military facilities, nursing homes or other health care centers. They work full-time, including some evenings and weekends. Podiatrists that work for hospitals or clinics might be on call for emergencies some nights and weekends.
Podiatrists are on their feet while examining patients and performing diagnostics and surgeries. They spend time at their desks when filling out paperwork and patient records.
How to become a podiatrist
Most podiatrists spend more than a decade getting the education and experience they need to practice. Follow these required steps to become a podiatrist:
1. Obtain a bachelor’s degree.
You must earn a four-year undergraduate degree to get into medical school. Choose a science or similar degree that includes required pre-med courses such as biology and chemistry.
2. Gain basic experience.
While in college, seek out opportunities in the medical field to make sure podiatry is the career for you. You might volunteer at a hospital or health center, get a student membership with a podiatry or pre-medical association or ask to shadow a podiatrist for a day.
3. Take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT).
The MCAT is a standardized, multiple-choice exam that assesses your skills and ability to work in medicine. Students typically take their MCATs in their junior year of college. You must study for and pass this exam to get into a DPM program.
4. Get a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine degree.
Search for and apply to schools that offer accredited D.P.M. programs. You can find these on the American Podiatric Medicine Association website. Medical school takes four years to complete and includes two years of coursework and two years of clinical experience.
5. Complete your residency.
After getting your D.P.M., you must spend about three years in a residency, training and practicing under the supervision of an experienced podiatrist. A residency provides you with more hands-on experience and allows you to focus on certain areas, such as wound care or surgery, that interest you.
6. Apply for a license.
Once you have completed your residency, all you need to do is get your license to be able to get a job. Apply for and pass the APMLE, which includes both a written and oral portion. You might also need to take a state licensing exam depending on where you live.
7. Get certified.
You might pursue board certification to be eligible for more job opportunities and show employers your dedication to the industry. To do so, you must study for and pass one of the American podiatry board exams.
8. Continue your education.
After becoming board-certified, you must continue your education through coursework, conferences and lectures to keep your credentials. National podiatry organizations such as the National Podiatric Medical Association and the American Podiatric Medical Association offer several continuing education opportunities.
9. Apply for a job.
Look for podiatrist positions in hospitals, long-term care centers, universities, private practices and more. Remember to update your resume as you gain certifications, give conference presentations or get articles published in journals.
Podiatrist job description examples
Houston Foot and Ankle Center is looking for a skilled podiatrist to join our group practice. The podiatrist will be responsible for meeting with geriatric patients to assess, diagnose and come up with treatment plans for foot and ankle injuries and conditions. This individual should have excellent communication and interpersonal skills and experience working with diabetic and elderly patients. The ideal candidate should be licensed and board-certified in Lower Extremity Geriatric Medicine.