A Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) is the medical specialist for the foot and ankle. Podiatrists are licensed to diagnose and treat conditions of and relating to the foot and ankle. Treatment can be medical, surgical, or biomechanical. (Biomechanics is the study of how the foot and leg function when the foot contacts the ground.) The podiatrists’ extensive knowledge of biomechanics allows them to alleviate many conditions with conservative therapy rather than surgery. However, when necessary surgically trained podiatrists have the capability to fix the most complex foot and ankle conditions.
Candidates for admission to Podiatric Medical Schools are expected to complete baccalaureate degrees before admission. As with institutions granting MD (medical doctor) and DO (doctor of osteopathy) degrees, the colleges will consider candidates who show unusual promise and have completed a minimum of 90 semester hours at accredited undergraduate colleges or universities. About 95 percent of all first-year students entering the colleges of podiatric medicine possess baccalaureate degrees, and about 10 percent have master’s degrees.
Applicants for admission are required to complete the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) as a prerequisite. The course of instruction leading to the DPM degree is four years in length. The first two years are devoted largely to classroom instruction and laboratory work in the basic medical sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, and pathology. During the third and fourth years, students concentrate on courses in the clinical sciences, gaining experience in the college clinics, community clinics, and accredited hospitals. Clinical courses include general diagnosis (history taking, physical examination, clinical laboratory procedures, gait analysis, biomechanics, and diagnostic radiology), therapeutics (pharmacology, physical medicine, orthotics, shoes, and prosthetics, surgery, anesthesia, and operative podiatric medicine.
After completing the four-year course and receiving the DPM degree, the graduate is required to complete postdoctoral work before state licensure.
Postdoctoral and Continuing Education
As they near graduation, prospective podiatric physicians seek postdoctoral residency programs. These programs, designed to strengthen and refinethepractitioner’s medical, surgical, biomechanical and /or orthopedic skills, are based in hospitals accredited by the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO) and the American Osteopathic Association (AOA). These programs are at usually two or three years in length and may extend to four years.
Following residency, the podiatric physician may enter practice or continue their education through Fellowships in specialized areas of study.
Podiatric Physicians are licensed in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to treat the foot and its related or governing structures by medical, surgical, mechanical, or other means. In addition to private practices, they serve on the staffs of hospitals and long-term care facilities, the faculties of schools of medicine and nursing, as commissioned officers in the Armed Forces and US Public Health Service, in the Department of Veterans Affairs, and in municipal health departments. Many podiatrists today are also part of group medical practices.
Special Areas of Practice
In its continuing efforts to protect and improve public health and welfare, APMA has recognized and approved two specialty boards that certify in three areas: podiatric orthopedics, podiatric surgery, and primary podiatric medicine. These boards confer certification on a podiatric practitioner who has satisfactorily passed written and oral examinations and has demonstrated knowledge and experience in his or her chosen specialty.
Those boards are the American Board of Podiatric Orthopedics and Primary Podiatric Medicine and the American Board of Podiatric Surgery.