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Have you ever had an ingrown toenail or a foot fracture? If so, then chances are you have visited a podiatrist. Podiatrists diagnose and treat diseases, deformities and injuries of the human foot and help patients prevent foot-related disorders. Their treatment methods include braces, casts, shields, orthotic devices, physical therapy, and prescribed medications. They also perform surgery on the bones of the forefoot and the subcutaneous soft tissues of the foot.

Our feet are an extremely important part of the body that most people neglect. Some say feet are ugly, but regardless of looks, without them, we would not be able to walk. The foot is an intricate structure containing 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, 19 muscles and tendons that hold the structure together and allow it to move in a variety of ways.

Podiatrists deal with all types of foot disorders, including ingrown toenails, tumors and cysts, bunions and bone growths, warts, corns and calluses, deformities from birth or neglect, sprains and fractures, abnormalities of gait and posture, and skin disorders. They help keep our feet in walking and working condition.

Many podiatrists specialize in sports medicine and treat and operate on athletes. Almost all professional sports teams have a working podiatrist on staff. Another big specialty area for podiatrists is in gerontology. Many of the elderly have foot problems associated with circulation. Podiatrists who specialize as surgeons generally work on call. For example if a patient who has recently had surgery feels pinching needs to be seen immediately, day or night, therefore, most podiatrists carry beepers on them at all times.

Podiatrists also make plaster casts to fix bone fractures in the feet. When it comes to foot deformities, podiatrists analyze how people walk so that they can ease pain and discomfort felt in these people. They design braces, casts or special orthotics to help a person walk properly. Also, since all ligaments, joints and muscles make their way down to our feet, podiatrists can detect early signs of diabetes and heart disease.
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  Average Earnings  
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  Interests and Skills  
Podiatrists are interested in helping people with foot disorders. They have the intellectual ability required to successfully complete the required academic training and to pursue a course of lifelong learning, and the stamina required to work long hours. They have excellent communication skills and can get along with people well and instill confidence.

Podiatrists enjoy finding solutions to problems, dealing with people, and directing the work of others. They must also be proficient in foot medicine -- they must have and apply the knowledge to diagnose foot diseases, injuries and disorders. Also, ethics is a strong point for these types of people because they have to do what is right for their patients with their best interests in mind.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Assess and diagnose foot problems by observing symptoms, reading x-rays and interpreting medical test results
  • Work out the cause of the foot problem by questioning and using video gait-analysis equipment
  • Treat foot problems by performing surgery on soft tissue and bone, prescribing orthotic devices, providing palliative care or, in some cases, prescribing medication
  • May also perform minor surgery on feet, such as ingrown toenails and wart removal
  • May take foot x-rays in the case of a fracture or for a scope
  • Offer advice on foot health and prevention of foot disorders
  • Help patients choose suitable treatment options
  • The majority of podiatrists are self-employed and have the flexibility to set their own hours. They generally work standard office hours, approximately 50 per week, however, they may also work evenings and weekends for the convenience of their patients. Podiatrists spend their days conducting examinations, treating and consulting with patients, and doing the required paperwork involved in running an office.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Most podiatrists run their own private practices or work with a group of chiropodists and other podiatrists. Some work in hospitals, government institutions and nursing homes.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Advancement as a podiatrist often takes the form of becoming a recognized expert in specific types of foot problems or treatments. With further training, podiatrists could make orthotics or become sports therapists since athletes have many foot related problems. They could also go into teaching and research.

  Educational Paths  
Seven American colleges provide training through a four-year program leading to a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree. The minimum admission requirement for these programs is three years of undergraduate study at a recognized college or university with course work in math, sciences and English. Most applicants have a Bachelor of Science or a Bachelor of Arts degree and successfully complete the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) to be considered for admission.

Graduates of four-year podiatry programs generally complete one to three years of residency after graduation. Therefore, it generally takes students a total of eight to eleven years to complete their studies from high school.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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