A podiatrist is a physician that specializes in diagnosing and treating conditions affecting the foot, ankle, and related structures of the leg. A podiatrist is uniquely qualified among medical professionals to treat the foot and ankle based on their education, training, and experience. A Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) receives medical education comparable to medical doctors, including four years of undergraduate education, four years of medical school at one of eight accredited podiatric medical colleges and three years of residency training. Core rotations are the same as any other medical specialty in medical school and residency such as internal medicine, general surgery, infectious disease, radiology, dermatology, anesthesia, pathology, and behavioral medicine. Within the field of podiatry, practitioners can focus on many different specialty areas, including surgery, diabetic limb salvage, sports medicine, biomechanics, geriatrics, pediatrics, orthopedics, or primary care. A foot and ankle surgeon (DPM) demonstrates a cognitive knowledge in the diagnosis and treatment of general medical problems and surgical management of foot and ankle diseases, deformities, and/or trauma, and those structures that affect the foot, ankle, and leg.
Podiatry is not a subspecialty, rather, it is its own specialty. A Doctor of Podiatric Medicine begins focus on the lower extremity in medical school and continues through three years of residency training. Continuing medical education is focused on medical and surgical treatment of the lower leg, ankle and foot as well as systemic diseases that effect the lower extremities. Similar to, and often integrated with residencies for MDs and DOs, podiatric surgical residency programs provide training in general medicine, general surgery and surgical specialties. The critical difference, though, is in the volume of cases and time spent in foot and ankle specific training. Podiatric surgical residency programs, which are a minimum of three years, provide significantly more foot and ankle training than any other specialty according to the Council on Podiatric Medical Education. Multiple general orthopedic resident surveys have shown that graduating general orthopaedic surgeons feel their program was deficient in foot and ankle surgery and that they are least prepared to treat the foot and ankle upon entering into private practice. (Dailey, et al., August 1998; American Journal of Orthopedics 563-570). One hundred percent of the board certification process for podiatry is focused on ankle and foot related disorders. Less than five percent of the American Board of Orthopedic Surgery (ABOS) certification examination is specific to the foot and ankle.