Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is a Podiatrist?

What is a Podiatrist?

As a practicing podiatrist for the last 20 years, this is a question that I am frequently asked - What is a podiatrist? Along with that question is the ever-popular "how can you stand looking at feet all day?" To answer these questions, let me start by explaining what it takes to become a podiatrist.

For a person coming out of high school with dreams of becoming a podiatrist, the first step is to go to college. Your major in college is not nearly as important as some might think. You will need to take several required classes regardless of your major though, with a heavy emphasis in the sciences (chemistry, physics, and the biological sciences). Once you near the end of your undergraduate career, it's time to start the application process to one of the 8 podiatry schools. Podiatry school is a 4-year curriculum, which when examined, closely resembles that of a typical medical school. This is especially true for the first two years. It is rigorous, and will test even the brightest of students. The further along students get into podiatry school, the more emphasis is placed on clinical training - as in actually seeing and treating patients. It would be a mistake, though, to think that today's podiatrist only learns about feet. To the contrary, the training is quite broad. In real life, it is impossible to treat foot problems without knowledge of what is going on with the rest of the body. For example, if a patient comes into my office with sudden onset of pain in his foot at the base of the big toe, I would include in my list of possible causes of the pain the diagnosis gout (see Treatment for this systemic disease that presents itself in the foot usually requires oral medication. Medication cannot be prescribed without knowledge of what other medication the patient is taking and how they all interact. Because of this, podiatrists have become experts in treating diseases, injuries and abnormalities of the foot and ankle, but are also able to tailor treatment plans that take the whole patient's situation into consideration.

Following the completion of podiatry school, the training is not yet complete. Podiatrists today must complete residency training that lasts up to 3 years. During this time, further training is received in the many areas podiatrists see in daily practice, including surgery, wound care, biomechanics, podiatric medicine, etc.

On a typical day in my office, I may see and treat any number of following conditions:
Ingrown toenails
Diabetic ulcers
Heel pain
Flat feet
Fungal toenails
Athlete's foot
Poor circulation
Corns and calluses
And the list goes on and on.

So, the next time you think of your podiatrist, be grateful that such trained individuals are there to take care of all your foot care needs.

Oh, and as to the second question, how can I stand looking at feet all day? I look at it this way. If I can have a person come into my office with pain, and leave painfree, there is nothing I would rather do. I brings a great deal of satisfaction to get people back to normal activities... back to being able to walk, run, and work. In short, healthy feet go a long ways to making lives more fulfilling and productive. It's great to be play a part in improving the lives of my patients!

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