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What is a Podiatric Physician?
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What is a Podiatric Physician (Podiatrist)?

Podiatry is a field of medicine that strives to improve the overall health and well-being of patients by focusing on preventing, diagnosing, and treating conditions associated with the foot and ankle. Doctors of Podiatric Medicine (DPMs) are physicians and surgeons who practice on the lower extremities, primarily on feet and ankles. The preparatory education of most podiatrists includes four years of undergraduate work, followed by four years in an accredited podiatric medical school, followed by a two or three year hospital-based residency. Podiatrists are licensed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to diagnose and treat the foot and its related or governing structures by medical, surgical, or other means. The majority of practicing podiatrists are men, however, an ever increasing number of new podiatrists are women. The current classes in the podiatric medical schools are comprised of about 50% men and 50% women.

The vast majority of states also include ankle care as part of the podiatrist’s scope of practice. The Massachusetts Podiatric Medical Society (MPMS) is currently leading the educational and lobbying effort to add treatment of the ankle to podiatrist’s scope of practice here in Massachusetts. MPMS has filed a bill to add Massachusetts to the 44 other states that currently allow podiatrists to treat the ankle medically and, for those who are qualified, surgically.

In addition to private practice, podiatrists serve on the staffs of hospitals and long-term care facilities, on the faculties of schools of medicine, as commissioned officers in the Armed Forces and the US Public Health Service, in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and in municipal health departments. Many podiatrists today are also members of group medical practices.

The skills of podiatric physicians are in increasing demand because disorders of the foot and ankle are among the most widespread and neglected health problems. Podiatrists treat people of all ages and are often the first medical specialists to diagnose systemic problems that affect the feet and ankles such as diabetes, gout, hypertension, immunodeficiencies, and arthritis.

What do podiatrists do?

  • They diagnose lower extremity pathology such as tumors, ulcers, fractures, skin and nail diseases, and congenital and acquired deformities.
  • They make independent judgments, prescribe medications, utilize x-rays, MRI, ultrasound and other laboratory tests for diagnostic purposes, and order physical therapy.
  • Podiatrists treat conditions such as: corns, calluses, bunions, heel spurs, heel pain (plantar fasciitis), ingrown nails, cysts, bone disorders, and infections of the foot.
  • They fit patients for custom shoes, particularly those with diabetes, and corrective shoe inserts, called orthotics, that address walking patterns to improve the overall ability of effective and efficient ambulation.
  • They provide consultations for the patient and for referring physicians regarding prevention of podiatric problems and possible treatments.
  • Podiatrists perform surgical correction of the foot including: hammertoes, clawtoes, bunions, fractures, infections, ruptured ligaments and tendons, lesions and neuro-vascular abnormalities of the foot.
  • Podiatrists are the only medical professionals who exclusively specialize in treating the foot and ankle.