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A foot doctor, also called a podiatrist, treats patients with different types of illnesses and injuries that affect the ankles and feet. Podiatrists use a number of tools and equipment to examine and diagnose foot conditions. Depending on the cause of problems, foot doctors may prescribe anti-inflammatory or pain medication, surgically remove skin maladies, or fit patients with special shoe inserts to relieve discomfort. Some podiatrists specialize with a certain type of foot care or condition, though many operate general practices.
When patients meet with a foot doctor, they are usually asked about their symptoms and medical histories. After learning about a patient's problems, the podiatrist conducts a thorough examination of the foot. If a patient has a skin condition such as a wart or corn, the doctor may remove it by freezing, burning, or cutting it off. Other conditions like ingrown nails often require equally delicate procedures. In addition, most podiatrists' offices are equipped with x-ray machines and other technological devices to help them make accurate diagnoses or internal problems.
If a foot doctor finds a torn ligament, bone fracture, or other internal injury, he or she might recommend surgery. Some podiatrists are licensed to perform invasive surgery themselves though most refer their patients to specialists known as orthopedic surgeons. After a surgical procedure, the foot doctor generally schedules checkup appointments to make sure that the foot or ankle heals properly. He or she may order custom orthotic shoe inserts to provide support and cushioning, prescribe painkillers, or arrange for physical therapy sessions to help a patient on the road to recovery.
The majority of podiatrists work in private or joint practices, though some act as part of larger medical teams at hospitals. Regardless of the setting, podiatrists generally handle many administrative duties, such as keeping accurate, confidential patient records. Those in private practice are usually responsible for additional administrative and business duties, such as hiring employees, advertising their services, and paying bills.
An individual who wants to become a foot doctor must be willing do dedicate several years to education and professional training. In most countries, prospective podiatrists must complete four-year undergraduate programs followed by four to six years of specialized medical school. Upon completion of a degree program, individuals are required to work as postdoctoral residents in hospital or clinical settings for at least two years before they can take licensing examinations. Written and practical tests are administered by state or national medical boards, and most practicing podiatrists are required to retake exams every few years to maintain their licenses.