Want to jump feet first into a good profession? Why not consider podiatry?
Consider these facts: the average person will walk over 80,000 miles
in their life. In each mile, the feet will hit the ground 1,800 times.
The foot has 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and over 20 muscles.
So it's no wonder that three in four Americans will experience foot problems
at some time in their life!
Some of these problems will be minor, like ingrown toenails and athlete's
foot, or deformities like calluses and bunions. Some people will have problems
that are more serious that can eventually cause problems in their knees, hips
A podiatrist is a doctor who specializes in the foot. A podiatrist focuses
on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of foot disorders that arise from
injury or disease. Podiatrists know how to treat all kinds of problems, like
corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, bunions, heel spurs and arch problems.
Podiatrists were known as "chiropodists" until the title was changed in
the early 1960s. Some jurisdictions may still use the term.
Look to the Foot
The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) say that there were 8,290
practicing podiatrists in the U.S. in 2005.
"Injuries sustained by an increasing number of men and women engaging in
exercise has created a great demand for doctors of podiatric medicine [DPMs],"
says the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine.
Meanwhile, the number of older North Americans is increasing. That adds
to the demand for podiatrists.
The U.S. is seeing its population of older persons skyrocketing. That's
mostly due to the fact that the baby boomers are aging. In 1998, 34.4 million
people were 65 and older. By 2030, that number is expected to reach 70 million,
says the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP).
The AACPM stresses that labor market studies indicate the need to increase
the number of practicing podiatrists in the U.S.
Plus, the 10,000-member strong American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA)
reports that 75 percent of Americans will have problems with foot health in
their lifetime. They urge the public to have periodic checkups with a podiatrist.
But it seems podiatry isn't attracting large numbers of people. In recent
years, fewer people have applied to the few podiatry schools in North America.
Admission standards remain high. But there are no waiting lists, says John
Andrews. He is dean of student affairs at the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine.
"The applicant pool has dropped. Because of managed care, some doctors
are having difficulty getting paid. Some of them are asking, 'If they had
the chance, would they do it all over again?'"
Podiatry students enjoy a great selection of residencies because of their
relative small numbers. "There are currently enough [residency] slots for
students who are graduating from schools of podiatric medicine," says Glenn
B. Gastwirth. He is the executive director of the APMA.
"There are fewer applicants to the colleges, which may be reflected later
on. Surpluses in residency positions may exist in the future as fewer students
attend the colleges."
There are various reasons why students are not choosing podiatry. One may
well be the cost of schooling. Usually, podiatry students already have a bachelor's
degree in science.
Considering it takes four years to get a doctorate in podiatric medicine,
you're looking at a pretty big debt load. It's something that's of great concern
"Like most of the people I know, I am looking at a $100,000 debt load upon
completion of school," says Mikel Daniels. He is a student at Temple University
School of Podiatric Medicine in Philadelphia.
"I have also wondered how to pay these back....I understand why people
are beside themselves with debt repayment, and I am beginning to understand
why some people get really down on podiatry, really fast."
Another factor is the politics of health care. In the U.S., managed care
is a real issue of concern.
Finally, it might be the reputation of the field. "Too many people still
don't appreciate what it takes to become a podiatrist," says Gastwirth.
"Too many people don't realize that we are physicians, or they don't know
what DPM [doctor of podiatric medicine] stands for. And too many think that
DPMs treat only minor, uncomplicated foot problems."
Walking Into the Future
Sources differ in their projections of future demand.
The employment of podiatrists is expected to grow at an average rate through
2014, reports the Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH). "More people will turn
to podiatrists for foot care as the elderly population grows," notes the OOH.
Andrews disagrees. He says there will be little or no growth in the demand
for podiatrists in the U.S.
Thomas Melillo is a podiatry professor at the Ohio College of Podiatric
Medicine. He says there's no easy answer to the demand question. "The number
of podiatrists per 100,000 patients hasn't increased over the past 10 years,
while the population is aging and demanding more foot care," he says.
"It's difficult to state how long this potential shortfall will last."
Science should be the focus for anyone who wants to become a podiatrist.
You'll also need a good score on the MCATs (medical school admissions tests).
About 80 out of every 100 applicants are accepted into podiatry school.
That doesn't mean it's a cinch to get in.
The AACPM reports that among entering students, about 98 percent of applicants
already hold a bachelor's degree, almost half of which are in biology.
Andrews recommends students try job shadowing a podiatrist.
"Find out if you have a comfort zone for the work," says Andrews.
Once you're set on podiatry, you'll have to pick a school. You won't have
a long list to pick from -- there are seven colleges of podiatry in the U.S.
Basic podiatry school takes four years. Then, most podiatrists are required
to complete at least one year of postgraduate residency training in an approved
health care institution.
"The training program consists of a number of rotations, such as anesthesiology,
internal medicine, radiology, infectious disease, surgery orthopedics, emergency
room and pediatrics which provide an interdisciplinary experience," notes
Podiatrists may also become certified in one of three specialty areas:
orthopedics, primary medicine or surgery.
Also on the horizon are changes to the education system for podiatrists.
"I think graduates of the podiatric colleges will be completing far more comprehensive
training programs that will all lead to some kind of board certification or
qualification," says Gastwirth.
Working podiatrists have already experienced large changes in the field.
"Solo practice is a thing of the past. Group practices, especially in multi-specialty
groups, is the way medicine seems to be going," says Gastwirth.
Once working, podiatrists can expect a good wage. The mean annual salary
in 2005 was $111,250, according to the OES.
Those in the field say the working conditions, financial rewards and benefits
of being a foot specialist are good. The average workweek of podiatric physicians
varies from less than 40 hours to as many as 50 hours.
The practice of podiatric medicine lends itself to flexible hours and is
comfortable for those who want to make to make time for a balanced life.
While this may be encouraging to students contemplating the career, experts
point out that the evolution of managed care is the single most important
factor affecting the income and demand for future podiatrists.
"Obviously, managed care is changing and there is more direct referral
to specialists evolving. But it does have an impact and influence on where
a new graduate should consider practicing," Melillo says.
Still, it's not something that should stop an aspiring podiatrist. Gastwirth
believes these doctors can thrive during these times of change.
"There is no substitute for knowledge. You must possess the podiatric medical
knowledge and skills to market yourself. You also must be prepared to get
out there and work hard."
He is optimistic about the future. "I truly believe that the best days
are in front of us."
American College of Foot and Ankle Orthopedics and MedicineAn affiliated organization of the American Podiatric Medical
American Podiatric Medical AssociationGives details on foot health
Foot and Ankle InstituteHas medical and general foot care information, along with a discussion