Podiatrist (Doctor of Podiatric Medicine)
Podiatric medicine is a branch of the medical sciences devoted to the study of human movement, with the medical care of the foot and ankle as its primary focus. A doctor of podiatric medicine is to the foot what a dentist is to the mouth or an ophthalmologist to the eye - a specialist who has undergone lengthy, thorough study to become uniquely well-qualified to treat a specific part of the body.
A Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) specializes in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of foot disorders, diseases and injuries. A DPM makes independent judgments and performs or orders all necessary diagnostic tests. They perform surgery; administer medications, including DEA-restricted medications; and prescribe physical therapy regimens.
DPMs often detect serious health problems that may otherwise go unnoticed, because a number of diseases manifest first through symptoms of the lower extremities (i.e., diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, or kidney disease). Podiatric physicians are educated in state-of-the-art techniques involving surgery, orthopedics, dermatology, physical medicine and rehabilitation.
To learn more, watch a video profile about podiatrists (in the Health Science category).
Podiatrists work in general or group practices and are free to develop a practice focus such as pediatrics, geriatrics, or sports medicine. In addition to private practice, they serve on the staffs of hospitals and long-term care facilities, on the faculties of schools of medicine and nursing, in the armed forces as commissioned officers, in the U.S. Public Health Service, and in municipal health departments. Possible career settings also include foot clinics associated with hospitals in major urban areas or small rural towns among others.
In general, the practice of podiatric medicine lends itself to flexible hours and is therefore comfortable for individuals who want time for family, friends and other involvements that characterize a balanced lifestyle. The work hours of a podiatric physician can vary from 30 to 60 hours a week. Podiatrists in private practice can set their own hours.
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The degree of Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (D.P.M.) is awarded after four years of study at an accredited podiatric medical college. Although the colleges differ in size and location, the curriculum leading to the D.P.M. degree is similar at each institution. The first two years concentrate on classroom instruction and laboratory work in the basic medical sciences. The third and fourth years of study focus on the clinical sciences and patient care.
As is the case for all physicians, the coursework includes anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, microbiology, pathology, immunology, etc. In addition, podiatric medical students learn the fundamentals of specialized medicine, including biomechanics, lower extremity anatomy, podiatric pathology, infectious diseases, orthopedics, and sports medicine courses.
Clinical exposures begin as early as the second year. Students of podiatric medicine gain practical experience by working in podiatric clinics in any of a variety of settings, including community clinics, hospitals, satellite clinics or professional office settings.
After completing four years of podiatric medical training, graduates select a Podiatric Medicine and Surgery Residency of 24 or 36 months in duration. In most states, podiatric physicians must complete a minimum of one year of postgraduate residency training in an approved healthcare institution; two years are required for board certification. A podiatric residency provides an interdisciplinary experience with rotations such as anesthesiology, internal medicine, infectious disease, surgery, orthopedics, pediatrics and ER. The 36-month residency includes extensive training in rear foot and ankle surgery.
The American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine (AACPM) offers an online application service, known as CASPR, in which all entry-level residency programs are required to participate. Also, if you're interested in connecting with other podiatric medical students, check out:
Our timeline is a helpful guideline, as you prepare for entry to a school of podiatric medicine.
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Last updated: February 5, 2016
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