Podiatrists finding new demand for their specialized care
Podiatrists concentrate on feet and ankles, but are centered on the whole patient. (March 8, 2013)
"I come home and my feet are pounding," says the 27-year-old Chicagoan. "I soak them in ice and get ready for the next day."
But last year, Affatatti felt a new pain just below her ankle, a pain that didn't go away with her customary ice treatments.
"I went to my regular doctor, who referred my to a podiatrist, which seemed kind of funny to me," says Affatatti. "I always thought of podiatrists as doctors for older people, not someone relatively young like me."
But on Affatatti's first trip to the podiatrist, she was surprised at the diversity of the patients in the waiting room.
"There were kids and moms and teen-agers," says Affatatti. "It was a mixed bag."
Treatment for all
The diverse age group stems from the need for proper foot care, whether you're a toddler learning how to walk or a senior experience pain from a decades-old injury.
Podiatry aims to improve the well-being of patients by focusing on diagnosing and treating conditions associated with the foot and ankle. Doctors of Podiatric Medicine are physicians and surgeons who practice on the lower extremities, primarily on feet and ankles.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, most colleges of podiatric medicine offer a four-year program with a core curriculum similar to that in other schools of medicine. During the first two years, students receive classroom instruction in basic sciences, including anatomy, chemistry, pathology and pharmacology. In their third and fourth year, students have clinical rotations in private practices, hospitals and clinics, during which they learn how to take general and podiatric histories, perform routine physical examinations, interpret tests and findings, make diagnoses and perform therapeutic procedures. Upon graduation, students receive the degree of Doctor of Podiatric Medicine, also known as a DPM.
Most graduates complete a hospital residency program after receiving a DPM. Residency programs last from 1 to 3 years. Residents receive advanced training in podiatric medicine and surgery and serve clinical rotations in anesthesiology, internal medicine, pathology, radiology, emergency medicine, and orthopedic and general surgery. Residencies lasting more than 1 year provide more extensive training in specialty areas, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Board certification in podiatry requires advanced training, written and oral examinations, as well as experience. Podiatrists may be board-certified in orthopedics, primary medicine or surgery.
Podiatrists often work in private practice. Some, however, serve on the staffs of hospitals and long-term care facilities, while others serve as faculty members at medical schools.
On a daily basis, a podiatrist may treat corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, bunions, heel spurs or arch problems. He or she often treats patients with ankle and foot injuries, deformities and infections, some of which are associated with diseases such as diabetes.
Podiatrists held about 12,900 jobs in 2010, and thanks to increasing awareness of foot problems, that number will increase in the future. Still, podiatrists often work in the same field for 40-50 years, meaning there can be little movement in patients once a doctor of podiatry is established. The median annual income of a podiatrist was $118,000 in 2010.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of podiatrists is expected to grow 20 percent – or faster than the average for all occupations – through 2020.
More people will turn to podiatrists for foot care as the number of injuries sustained by a more active and increasingly older population grows. Additional job openings will result from podiatrists who retire from the occupation, particularly members of the "baby-boom" generation. However, relatively few job openings from this source are expected because the occupation is small and most podiatrists remain in it until they retire," according to the bureau.