Podiatrists provide medical and surgical care for people with foot, ankle, and lower leg problems. They diagnose illnesses, treat injuries, and perform surgery involving the lower extremities.

Duties

Podiatrists typically do the following:

  • Assess the condition of a patient’s feet, ankles, or lower legs by reviewing his or her medical history, listening to the patient’s concerns, and performing a physical examination
  • Diagnose foot, ankle, and lower-leg problems through physical exams, x rays, medical laboratory tests, and other methods
  • Provide treatment for foot, ankle, and lower leg ailments, such as prescribing special shoe inserts (orthotics) to improve a patient’s mobility
  • Perform foot and ankle surgeries, such as removing bone spurs and correcting foot and ankle deformities
  • Give advice and instruction on foot and ankle care and on general wellness techniques
  • Prescribe medications
  • Refer patients to other physicians or specialists if they detect larger health problems, such as diabetes
  • Read journals and attend conferences to keep up with advances in podiatric medicine

Podiatrists treat a variety of foot and ankle ailments, including calluses, ingrown toenails, heel spurs, and arch problems. They also treat foot and leg problems associated with diabetes and other diseases. Some podiatrists spend most of their time performing advanced surgeries, such as foot and ankle reconstruction. Others may choose a specialty such as sports medicine or pediatrics.

Podiatrists who own their practice may spend time on business-related activities, such as hiring employees and managing inventory.

Work Environment: 

Podiatrists held about 10,700 jobs in 2012.

Most podiatrists work in offices of podiatry, either on their own or with other podiatrists. Some work in group practices with other physicians or specialists. Others work in private and public hospitals and outpatient care centers.

About 14 percent of podiatrists were self-employed in 2012. Self-employed podiatrists either solely own or are partners in a medical practice.

Work Schedules

Most podiatrists work full time. Podiatrists’ offices may be open in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients. In hospitals, podiatrists may have to work occasional nights or weekends, or may be on call.

Education and Training: 

Podiatrists must earn a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree and complete a 3-year residency program. Podiatrists must be licensed.

Education and Training

Podiatrists must have a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree from an accredited college of podiatric medicine. A DPM degree program takes 4 years to complete. In 2012, there were 9 colleges of podiatric medicine accredited by the Council on Podiatric Medical Education.

Admission to podiatric medicine programs requires at least 3 years of undergraduate education, including specific courses in laboratory sciences such as biology, chemistry, and physics, as well as general coursework in subjects such as English. In practice, nearly all prospective podiatrists earn a bachelor’s degree before attending a college of podiatric medicine. Admission to DPM programs usually requires taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

Courses for a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine degree are similar to those for other medical degrees. They include anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology among other subjects. During their last 2 years, podiatric medical students gain supervised experience by completing clinical rotations.

After earning a DPM, podiatrists must apply to and complete a podiatric medical and surgical residency (PMSR) program, which lasts 3 years. Residency programs take place in hospitals and provide both medical and surgical experience. They may do additional training in specific fellowship areas.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Podiatrists in every state must be licensed. Usually, Podiatrists must pay a fee and pass the American Podiatric Medical Licensing Exam (APMLE). Some states also require podiatrists to take a state-specific exam. Licenses must typically be renewed periodically, and podiatrists must take continuing medical education.

Many podiatrists choose to become board certified. The American Board of Podiatric Surgery is the certifying agency in podiatric surgery, and the American Board of Podiatric Medicine is the certifying agency in orthopedics and primary care podiatry. Certification requires a combination of work experience and passing scores on exams.

Important Qualities

Compassion. Podiatrists treat patients who may be in pain. They must be empathetic toward the people they serve.

Critical-thinking skills. Podiatrists must have a sharp, analytical mind to correctly diagnose a patient and determine the best course of treatment.

Detail oriented. To provide safe, effective healthcare, a podiatrist should be detail oriented. For example, a podiatrist must pay attention to a patient’s medical history as well as current conditions when diagnosing a problem and deciding on a treatment.

Interpersonal skills. Because podiatrists spend much of their time interacting with patients, they should be able to listen well and communicate effectively. For example, they should be able to tell a patient who is slated to undergo surgery what to expect and calm his or her fears.

Pay: 

The median annual wage for podiatrists was $116,440 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,530, and the top 10 percent earned more than $187,200. 

Self-employed podiatrists may earn more than salaried doctors, but they are also responsible for the costs of running a business, such as providing benefits for themselves and employees.

Most podiatrists work full time. Podiatrists’ offices may be open in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients. In hospitals, podiatrists may have to work occasional nights or weekends, or may be on call.

Job Outlook: 

Employment of podiatrists is projected to grow 23 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 2,400 new jobs over the 10-year period.

As the U.S. population both ages and increases, the number of people expected to have mobility and foot-related problems will rise. Growing rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity also may limit mobility of those with these conditions, and lead to problems such as poor circulation in the feet and lower extremities. More podiatrists will be needed to provide care for these patients.

In addition, podiatrists are increasingly working in group practices along with other healthcare professionals. Continued growth in the use of outpatient surgery also will create new opportunities for podiatrists. 

Job Prospects

Job prospects for trained podiatrists should be good given that there are a limited number of colleges of podiatry. In addition, the retirement of currently practicing podiatrists in the coming years is expected to increase the number of job openings for podiatrists.

For More Information: 

For more information about podiatrists, visit

American Podiatric Medical Association

For information on colleges of podiatric medicine and their entrance requirements, curricula, and student financial aid, visit

American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine

For a list of accredited podiatric programs and residency programs, visit

Council on Podiatric Medical Education

For more information about the podiatric licensing exam, visit

The National Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners

For more information about board certification, visit

American Board of Podiatric Surgery

American Board of Podiatric Medicine

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, 2014–2015 Occupational Outlook Handbook, http://www.bls.gov/ooh.