If you are experiencing any sort of foot or ankle problems, the first step you should take is to make an appointment to have your feet examined by a podiatrist. A podiatrist is a specialist, a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), whose training focuses exclusively on the total care of the foot and ankle. The podiatrist works on a team of medical specialists responsible for good foot health. Podiatrists usually take a multi-disciplinary approach in managing foot and lower extremity problems by involving/referring to: Generalists/ Internists/Endocrinologists, Orthopedists, Vascular Surgeons, Physiatrists (Physical Medicine Specialists), Neurologists, Pedorthists (Shoe/Orthotic/Prosthetic Specialists), and Physical Therapists.
Podiatric medicine is a highly specialized branch of medicine dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease and disorders affecting the foot, ankle, and lower extremities.
Podiatry became identified as a special field of study and practice in Britain in 1774 under the name "Chiropody" (from two French words, "chirugien" and "pied," meaning "surgeon of the foot"). It reached career status in the United States during the 19th century, and in 1895 was accorded independent recognition by the New York State Legislature. By 1911, the first college of podiatric medicine was operating in New York City (the New York College of Podiatric Medicine), and licensure was integrated under the State Board of Regents by the Board of Medical Examiners.
To earn a DPM degree, an individual must complete four years of undergraduate study (Bachelor's Degree), fours years in a college of podiatric medicine (Doctorate), and up to three years in a post-graduate residency program at a private or university hospital. The residency program allows the doctor-in-training to refine his/her clinical skills while diagnosing and treating a host of podiatric problems. It is this experience that prepares the podiatric physician with the knowledge necessary to embark upon this highly specialized field of medicine. In order to obtain a license to practice podiatric medicine, one must take and pass a national and state exam.
No other medical specialist is required to complete such an extensive program of study in the treatment of common and uncommon medical and orthopedic disorders of the foot and ankle. Podiatric doctors (or podiatrists, as they are sometimes called) have completely independent and unlimited surgical, pharmaceutical and medical authority when acting within their scope of practice as described by each individual state. They are formally recognized as physicians by federal programs such as Medicare and at the state level with 24 state legislatures having taken special initiatives in this regard.
Many podiatrists go the extra-mile to become certified by one of two certifying boards nationally recognized by the APMA (American Podiatric Medical Association), the American Board of Podiatric Surgery and the American Board of Podiatric Orthopedics and Primary Podiatric Medicine. This certification process raises the professional standards held by podiatrists. These strict criteria that a physician subjects him/herself distinguishes one from his/her colleagues, often resulting in widespread recognition of professional merit by hospitals and insurance companies alike.
Podiatrists are a Lifesaving Link within the Health Care System
Today, podiatric doctors are providing specialized foot care to more patients than ever before. Because the foot has a complex interrelation with the rest of the body, it may be the first area to show signs of serious systemic conditions, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The podiatric doctor is often the first to detect symptoms of these disorders and becomes a vital and sometimes lifesaving link in the health care team.
As the trend continues towards physical fitness, with greater emphasis placed on sports medicine, the importance of the podiatric doctor is becoming more and more apparent in many of the nation's leading hospitals and treatment centers.