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What do Podiatrists do?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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Many people think of podiatrists as foot doctors. In fact, podiatrists are doctors that specialize in the study, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of ailments that affect the feet, the ankles and even the lower legs. Podiatrists are "real" doctors and many are certified in primary medicine. Although specializing in a particular medical discipline, podiatrists could conceivably practice in other disciplines as well, based on their education and expertise.

Podiatrists must study more than the feet when entering the field of podiatric medicine. While they must obtain a DPM (Doctor of Podiatric Medicine) degree, they also receive extensive training in areas such as radiology, anesthesiology, emergency care and different types of surgeries including orthopedics. They must usually complete an internship and a residency program to become board certified.

Podiatrists must obtain a license to practice. The prerequisites for acquiring a license vary by state, although most require podiatrists to have a degree and to pass certain exams and evaluations. If issued in one state, a license may or may not be recognized by another state. Podiatrists must check state laws to ensure that one state's license is recognized and accepted in any other state in which he or she hopes to practice.

Some of the issues podiatrists deal with are painful irritations of the feet including corns, bunions, plantar warts, ingrown toenails and toenail fungus. Most of these conditions are readily treatable, while others require more care. Podiatrists also treat problems like plantar fasciitis, "hammertoes," arch problems and circulation difficulties in the lower extremities often caused by diabetes. Podiatrists also prescribe orthotics when necessary.

If you suffer from any of these conditions or experience pain, numbness or cramping, it is a good idea to see a podiatrist for an examination. Tell the doctor about any illnesses such as diabetes, and let him or her know if you smoke or take medication. A podiatrist will examine the overall structure of your ankles and feet and look for irregularities that could lead to discomfort, infection or deterioration. He or she will then suggest treatment options to make your feet, ankles and legs healthier.

Podiatrists are available in hospital settings and clinics, and some have private practices. The cost of visiting a podiatrist varies, so make sure you are aware of the cost and find out if the doctor you hope to visit accepts your insurance plan.

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Discussion Comments

By staceybeck01 — On Oct 31, 2013

I need to find a good podiatrist and this is great advice.

By anon302373 — On Nov 08, 2012

My MRI came back with a ruptured longus and near ruptured brevis tendon two weeks ago from a radiologist. The resident dpm with my MRI in front of him disputes the findings because of the way I move my foot. He told me sprains and ligaments take time to heal and wrapped me in an ace bandage. He completely ignored my excruciating pain.

The supervisor DPM came into the room for two minutes and said one of stupidest things I ever heard a doctor say. He said, You can't believe the words written by the radiologist on a piece of paper." So in two minutes. the DPM and his resident discredited the radiologist who went to medical school and spent 16 years obtaining her degree.

I knew in two minutes this resident would never be accepted into medical school.

By anon277244 — On Jun 28, 2012

It requires 11 years of training to become a podiatrist: four years of undergraduate training, four years of medical school and three years of surgical residency.

Most doctors, including podiatrists are specialists at this point. That means they limit their practice to a specialized area of medicine. Podiatry is no different from any other specialty that limits the practice to what they are best at. In the case of podiatry, they are the best at foot and ankle surgery because of their superior training.

By anon141569 — On Jan 10, 2011

At the end of the day, they don't have as many years of school as required by an MD or a DO. They can't prescribe certain medications either, like pain meds. They can't admit a patient to a hospital either. They are simply not as skilled or qualified in the whole scope of things.

By anon91748 — On Jun 23, 2010

Wrong. Podiatrists are specialists with a wide variety of surgical and medical experience far away from the foot.

During their three year residency program they rotate through so many diverse medical rotations including general surgery, orthopedic surgery, rheumatology, pediatrics, dermatology, plastic surgery, emergency medicine, internal medicine, vascular surgery, cardiology.

Many times they are the best residents on the medicine and surgical rotation.

They are physicians and surgeons and I view them as such.

By anon76065 — On Apr 08, 2010

I have a great deal of respect for podiatrists and believe them to be valued members of the health care team. However, I am concerned by your statements concerning what a podiatrist is and is not and what they can and cannot do.

Yes, as you stated, they are foot doctors. Your use of the term "specialist," however, is a bit of a misnomer. Podiatrists are trained primarily in foot and ankle medicine. In other words, they are substantially trained only in foot and ankle medicine which consequently defines and limits their legal scope of practice.

This is different from medical doctors (MD/DO) who are substantially trained in all aspects of medicine, affecting every body system who may then choose to specialize in a specific area including foot and ankle.

Furthermore, the training that podiatrists receive in the other areas you mention is still within the context of treating only the foot and ankle and is necessary because the body is a unit where one system may affect another.

This "additional" training, however, does not qualify them technically or legally to practice in other areas of medicine.

For example, a podiatrist may treat the foot manifestations of diabetes, but they could not legally or competently manage the medications and therapies typically employed (e.g. insulin, blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol medications) to treat diabetic patients.

In summary, Podiatrists are respected members of the health care team. However, their training and consequently scope of practice limits them to only treating primary and secondary issues of the foot and ankle.

And finally, yes they are specialists, but only within the context of podiatry.

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