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Podiatrists are doctors who treat foot and lower leg problems, helping their patients stay mobile and active. Podiatrists treat foot problems from the mundane, such as ingrown toenails or bunions, to the more serious, such as complications from diabetes or ankle and foot injuries. Making use of a wide range of medical technologies, podiatrists diagnose injuries or chronic conditions and develop treatment plans that may include physical therapy, surgery, or medication.
Because foot problems can be symptoms of other diseases such as arthritis or heart trouble, podiatrists work with other doctors, referring patients when necessary. The complex anatomic structure of the human foot means podiatrists encounter a wide range of conditions in their daily practice.
Podiatrists must be able to listen attentively to their patients and to communicate clearly with them. They need to have highly developed hand-eye coordination. Since approximately one-quarter of all podiatrists operate their own practices, they must be good at a range of business functions or be willing and able to hire others to perform required activities.
As of 2008, podiatrists earned a median annual wage of $113,560. The bottom 10 percent earned a median income of $47,940, while top earners brought in a median annual wage of over $166,400. Podiatrists working in outpatient care centers had the highest earnings by employer, making a mean of $136,230 annually.
Training and Education
Podiatrists attend four-year graduate programs that are similar to other schools of medicine. To be admitted to most podiatric program, candidates must have an undergraduate degree and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
The first two years of podiatric medicial school focus on basic science classes including anatomy, chemistry, pathology, and pharmacology. The second two years are devoted to clinical rotations in various professional settings. Most graduates of colleges of podiatric medicine also undertake residencies lasting from one to three years to complete their training.
Podiatrists must be licensed in all states in the U.S. While most states recognize licenses earned elsewhere, the requirements may vary from state to state. Generally, applicants for a license must have completed a residency program and meet continuing education requirements.
As of 2008, there were nearly 10,000 podiatrists working in the U.S. Approximately one-quarter of them were self-employed. The majority of podiatrists work in offices of other health practitioners while others work in offices of physicians. A small minority of podiatrists worked in hospitals, academia, and for the federal government.
Some podiatrists specialize in areas such as surgery, orthopedics, primary care, or public health. Podiatrists may advance to become professors at colleges of podiatric medicine, department chiefs in hospitals, or general health administrators.
Between 2006 and 2016, the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 9 percent increase in the number of podiatrists practicing in the U.S. This rate of increase is about average compared with all occupations. Although foot surgeries and medical care of the feet due to serious health conditions are often covered by Medicare and private insurance, routine foot care is generally not covered. However, growing consumer demand for podiatric care should keep the job outlook positive.
Job opportunities are expected to be best for board-certified podiatrists because many managed care organizations require board certification.