When your car breaks down, who do you go to? What about when you want to get sushi grade fish, who do you trust? For me, it has always been a specialist. I want to be sure that the person working on my car knows the ins and out of it's design so they do not miss anything I cannot see or hear. And I want to get the right kind of sushi so that I don't get sick from eating any raw fish.
This is the same for foot & ankle problems. If you're job requires that you have great foot health, like an athlete, dancer, service worker, and the like, you probably want to go to someone who has seen it all. Doctors of Podiatric Medicine & Surgery, DPM, have a total of 7-9 years of dedicated training in understanding all problems related to the foot & ankle. With one quarter of all bones in the human body located in the feet, 66 joints, and over 200 muscles, tendons, and ligaments, the biomechanics of getting people to walk without pain and deformity is more complicated than meets the eye.
Training to be a podiatrist aka foot & ankle specialist parallels other medical professions such as those with M.D. & D.O. degrees except our studies is specialized from the get-go in school and during residency training (like dentistry or optometry). I actually get this question a lot from even friends & family, so here's the typical breakdown:
- Undergraduate studies (B.S., B.A or equivalent taking basic sciences)
- Take MCAT exam (Medical College Admission Test) & apply to Podiatry School
- Podiatry School: is 4 years of medicine, alongside our MD/DO medical colleagues, PLUS podiatry topics (currently there are 9 recognized podiatry schools in the U.S., see http://www.aacpm.org/html/collegelinks/cl_schools.asp). Upon graduation, students then are awarded the title Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, D.P.M. and are now called doctors.
- Residency: During the last 2 years of podiatry school, students are preparing and applying for residency programs throughout the U.S. for hands-on training focused foot & ankle issues along with other specialities such as internal medicine, infectious disease, general surgery, orthopedic, vascular, psychology, etc so that podiatrists are competent in caring for the whole patient while becoming experts in foot & ankle disorders. Residency training is now 3 years long and they are under the guidance of experienced podiatrists. Upon completion of residency, the "surgically trained" podiatrist can now go into practice (work independently) and perform surgeries in the foot & ankle.
- Fellowship: Optionally, some will want to gain more experience and pursue a fellowship for additional and/or more specialized training and/or research, which can be 1-2 years long. Opportunities in this area is growing but is not necessary to practice as a podiatrist.
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