Working as a podiatrist can be highly rewarding – personally, professionally, and financially. You get to help and treat people, which is wonderful; plus, due to the highly specialized nature of the work, the podiatry profession is expected to see job growth of 20 percent by 2020, which is faster than the average for all professions nationwide. Since the job market can be rough, knowing that you will have a better chance to find employment can be a serious incentive.
Podiatrists are doctors who specialize in the treatment of the foot and lower leg. They deal with many issues, ranging from ingrown toenails to fractures or severe injuries. Some only provide diagnosis and treatment, while others also perform surgery. Basically, they do what every doctor does: diagnose illnesses, treat injuries, and perform surgery. The only difference is that they pay special attention to the lower extremities.
What responsibilities come with the job?
First off, a podiatrist must assess the condition of a patient’s feet, ankles, or lower legs. They review the medical history, ask about symptoms, and perform a physical examination. Then, they diagnose the patient using X rays, medical laboratory tests, and other common methods. Podiatrists provide treatment for foot, ankle, and lower leg ailments, which includes prescribing special shoe inserts to improve a patient’s mobility or prescribing medications/physical therapy.
As we’ve stated before, some podiatrists perform foot and ankle surgeries (for instance for removing bone spurs and correcting foot and ankle deformities). They sometimes refer patients to other physicians or specialists if they detect larger health problems, and they often give advice and instruction on foot and ankle care and on general wellness techniques.
Common health problems podiatrists treat include calluses, ingrown toenails, heel spurs, and arch problems. They also care for patients with 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.
How much can you earn?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for podiatrists was $116,440 in May 2012. As a side note, the median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The same source states that the lowest 10 percent earned less than $52,530, and the top 10 percent earned more than $187,200. It’s also important to keep in mind that self-employed podiatrists may earn more than salaried doctors, but they are also responsible for the costs of running a business (in this case a private practice).
Another source, Payscale.com, states that podiatrists earn an average salary of $122,560 per year and mentions that the pay ranges from $77,640 to $223,845 (including bonuses, profit sharing, and commission). The median hourly rate for a podiatrist is $84.00 – as the hourly rate ranges from $40.13 to $111.69. Not too shabby.
What’s important to note here is that employment of podiatrists is projected to grow 23 percent from 2012 to 2022, much faster than the average for all occupations. That’s because, as the US population ages and increases, there will be more and more people expected to deal with mobility and foot-related problems. Plus, growing rates of chronic conditions such as diabetes and obesity also may limit the mobility of those with these conditions. That means that patients will likely deal with problems such as poor circulation in the feet and lower extremities. As a comparison, the employment of physicians and surgeons is projected to grow only 18 by 2022.
On the same note, CareerCast, a popular job search website, recently named podiatrist as one of the ten best jobs in healthcare in 2015. While the job might not pay in the mid-six figures commanded by a heart surgeon, for instance, it doesn’t involve excessive stress or harsh working conditions. That means less hassle, while still enough money to live rather comfortably.
How’s the work environment?
The work environment depends mainly on the employer. Some podiatrists work in a group practice with other podiatrists or other specialists or have their own business. Others can be employed by the Government to work with veterans, work as hospital department chiefs, university professors, or health administrators. Alternatively, they can work in outpatient care centers, clinics, or in public/private hospitals. Patients are generally referred by their primary care physician, but they also deal with walk-ins.
It’s important to note that even though a podiatrist usually has fewer emergency situations than other medical professionals, they must be willing to work on an on-call basis occasionally, especially if they are working in a hospital. If they want to avoid that, opening their own practice or joining an already established practice is the way to go. That way, they are no longer expected to work nights and they can extend hours one or two nights per week to accommodate people who can’t come in during usual business hours.
How do you become one?
To become a podiatrist you must have a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree from an accredited college of podiatric medicine. This kind of degree program takes four years to complete. Moreover, admission to podiatric medicine programs requires at least three 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. Also, keep in mind that admission to DPM programs usually requires taking the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
While enrolled in a DPM degree program, you will take courses very similar to other medical degrees. Think anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, and pathology among other subjects. However, during the last two years, you will be able to gain supervised experience by completing clinical rotations.
After graduation, podiatrists must complete a podiatric medical and surgical residency program for three years, earning both medical and surgical experience. Of course, podiatrists often do additional training in specific fellowship areas. As for licenses and certifications, podiatrists must be licensed in every state. They usually pay a fee and are required to pass the American Podiatric Medical Licensing Exam (APMLE). Depending on your location, there may also be state-specific exams involved. Licenses must typically be renewed periodically.
Side note: many podiatrists choose to become board certified. Certification requires a combination of work experience and passing scores on exams.
Do you have what it takes for the job?
Education and training is extensive when it comes to anything healthcare related, so you need to be ready to put in some long hours of hard work to become a full-fledged podiatrist. You also need some other important qualities to make it in the field:
- Compassion – as you deal with a lot of patients who are in pain
- Empathy – you need to be able to effectively listen to your patients and understand what they’re going through
- Critical-thinking skills – you need a sharp, analytical mind to correctly diagnose a patient and determine the best course of treatment
- Attention to details – crucial for someone who provides safe and effective healthcare; you need to analyze the patient’s medical history and symptoms; as well as make sure you don’t skip any steps when consulting a patient or providing treatment
- Interpersonal skills – you will spend a lot of time interacting with patients, so you need to be able to build strong, productive relationships with them
- Good communication skills – you might be required to tell a patient who is slated to undergo surgery what to expect and have the ability to successfully calm their fears, answer their questions, and provide support.
- Ability to work well under stress – podiatrists must sometimes work evenings or weekends to accommodate patients. In hospitals, they are also on call on a regular basis.
Being a podiatrist does involve plenty of studying and training, but it’s also a highly rewarding job. You will literally put people back on their feet; and this prospect should make you feel all warm and tingly inside. If it does, put your best foot forward and get to work.