What Is a Podiatrist? (With Duties and How to Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published November 21, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Pursuing a specialization in the medical field allows you to explore an area of medicine. For instance, you may work as a podiatrist and provide recommendations and advice to patients who require treatment for problems with their ankles and feet. Understanding what a podiatrist does and how to become one can help you decide if it's a viable career for you. In this article, we answer "What is a podiatrist?", discuss their duties, outline how to become one, highlight their skills, and describe the work environment of these professionals.

What is a podiatrist?

In answer to the question "What is a podiatrist?," podiatrists are doctors who treat patients with conditions that affect their legs, feet, and ankles. These professionals also focus on ailments that can cause complications related to this area, such as diabetes. Podiatrists often become qualified to perform surgeries by completing additional education and specialized training. They may also choose to study other subspecialties, such as:

  • gerontological podiatry

  • sports medicine

  • neuro-podiatry

  • forensic podiatry

  • podiatric orthopedics

  • onco-podiatry

  • dermatological podiatry

  • diagnostic podiatry

  • podiatric rheumatology

Related: 25 Top Healthcare Jobs in Canada (With Duties and Salaries)

What does a podiatrist do?

Podiatrists typically perform several duties to ensure their patients maintain excellent leg and foot health. Some of their primary duties include the following:

  • Reviewing a patient's medical history: Podiatrists typically review this history to assess a patient's condition and provide the best recommendations. Based on this account, they can counsel and advise patients on maintaining optimal foot health.

  • Conducting examinations: A podiatrist examines patients' feet and lower extremities to diagnose and check for disorders, ailments, and diseases. They may also order and administer various tests, such as ultrasounds, X-rays, and bone density tests.

  • Administering treatments: By administering various treatment options, podiatrists can help to relieve and potentially cure their patients' conditions. These professionals may prescribe pain medications and other drugs, such as anti-inflammatory medication, to treat patients for a short period.

  • Performing surgeries: Certified podiatrists may perform surgeries, while those without the necessary certification may refer patients who require surgeries to those who are qualified to do so.

  • Treating sports-related injuries: Since athleticism can significantly impact a person's feet, podiatrists are often responsible for diagnosing and treating sports-related injuries.

Related: 13 Highest Paying Jobs in the Medical Field (With Salaries)

How to become a podiatrist

Consider the following steps to help you build a career as a podiatrist:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

The typical first step to becoming a podiatrist is to earn a bachelor's degree in science or another related field. Medical schools generally require you to hold an undergraduate degree before applying. Consider choosing a major that involves physics, biology, and chemistry to prepare for medical school.

2. Pursue internships

During your undergraduate study, it's advisable to seek opportunities for internships. These programs can help you decide if you want to continue studying podiatric medicine. They're also helpful in assisting you in gaining relevant experience and skills to succeed in the field. You might consider volunteering at a health centre or hospital, where you can collaborate with a podiatrist for the program's duration. These opportunities also help you to build your professional network and connect with other professionals in the field.

3. Pass the MCAT

The Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) is a standardized test that assesses your proficiency and knowledge in various areas, such as psychology, chemistry, biology, and critical thinking. The exam is a medical school entrance exam intended for medical doctors. It's normally essential to pass this exam to qualify for medical school unless you're choosing a medical school in Quebec. It's advisable to start preparing for the MCAT during your undergraduate study.

Related: What Are the Entry Requirements for Medical School?

4. Complete a degree in podiatric medicine

After passing the MCAT, you can apply to a college of podiatric medicine to earn your Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree. This degree is a four-year program that requires you to spend the first two years learning in a classroom. In that period, you examine various subjects, including anatomy, pathology, and pharmacology.

The program's last two years involve discovering the practical aspects of the field. It involves performing physical exams, doing clinical rotations, and interpreting and administering different diagnostic tests. During that time, you may experience general practice and begin practicing in the area where you intend to specialize.

Related: What Are Medical Degrees? (With Five Degree Examples)

5. Complete a podiatric residency

After earning your DPM degree, it's necessary to complete your residency. You can apply through the Canadian Resident Matching Service (CaRMS). These programs typically take between two to four years to complete. Usually, you can select an area of specialization and a preferred facility to complete your residency.

Residencies help you gain more direct and in-depth experience in real-life medical scenarios and working with patients. They may also include training in surgery and other advanced procedures. You can also focus on specific care methods, such as developing orthopedic plans or treating wounds. You can complete your residency program in any approved health care institution, such as hospitals or private care facilities.

6. Obtain licensure and certification

It's essential to obtain a license in the province where you intend to work. The licensing requirement for each province varies, so research the requirement for your chosen location to ensure you meet the necessary criteria. Typically, the certification process involves writing and passing a written and verbal examination. For instance, you could complete the Medical Council of Canada Qualifying Exam (MCCQE) Part I.

In addition, some provinces may require that you spend time continuing your education to renew your licence. Before you can practice as a licensed podiatrist, some institutions often request board certification. You could also earn a certification in your area of specialization, such as primary care, surgery, or orthopedics. Board certification can help you impress hiring managers and demonstrate your expertise in your field.

7. Apply for available roles

After earning the relevant degrees, professional experience, licences, and certifications, you can consider applying for available roles. Look at opportunities in the location you'd like to work in that suit your qualifications. Alternatively, you can ask your network contacts to recommend you for available roles. It's often beneficial to create a detailed resume and cover letter to accompany your application. Ensure that these documents highlight your relevant qualifications and expertise and show a hiring manager that you're the ideal candidate for the role.

Related: 6 Different Ways to Find a Job (With Tips and Steps)

Essential podiatrist skills and knowledge

Here are some essential skills and knowledge topics you can develop to help you succeed as a podiatrist:

Communication skills

Essential communication skills help you share information with others to foster teamwork and improve productivity. For example, as a podiatrist, you ought to know how to discuss a patient's health status and treatment plans with them. It's also useful to be able to explain medical terms in simple language and answer questions in a manner patients can understand. You may also work with other professionals, so understanding how to communicate with colleagues and give instructions to ensure patients receive the best health care is key.

Related: 15 Communication Skills for Professionals to Develop

Foot care knowledge

Foot care refers to the process of diagnosing and treating foot ailments. This knowledge includes understanding methods of cleaning, inspecting, and treating problems. Foot care skills are fundamental, as they can help you protect patients from recurring ailments.

Medical knowledge

This entails having an in-depth understanding of the human body and its functions. It's important knowledge, as different medical conditions can cause ankle and foot conditions, such as genetics, overuse, and trauma. Understanding how to identify the source of the patient's ailment and offer the best treatment option is a crucial skill for a podiatrist. It's also highly beneficial to stay up to date with the latest medical treatments and advancements in the industry.

Customer service skills

These skills help you interact with clients and their families. As a podiatrist, you may work with patients from different demographics and with different medical conditions. Good customer service skills are essential and can ensure you provide the best care to each patient according to their specific needs.

Related: Tips on How to Provide Good Customer Service (With Benefits)

Interpersonal skills

Interpersonal skills entail building sustainable relationships with others. As podiatrists spend a lot of time with patients and other professionals, it's important that you know how to build sustainable relationships with various individuals. These skills can help you earn patients' trust and ensure you can collaborate well with other professionals.

Related: Interpersonal Skills: Definitions and Examples

Podiatrist work environment

Podiatrists typically work in private or group practices with doctors and other medical professionals. They may work in universities, hospitals, military facilities, nursing homes, government, and other medical centres. These professionals often work full-time, including weekends and evening shifts. If necessary, podiatrists in clinics and hospitals may be on call for emergencies. Podiatrists may stand for long hours while performing diagnostics, examining patients, and conducting surgeries. They also spend time in their offices writing up patient records and other documents.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions, or organizations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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