Podiatrists treat corns, calluses, ingrown toenails, bunions, heel spurs, and arch problems; ankle and foot injuries, deformities, and infections; and foot complaints associated with diseases such as diabetes. To treat these problems, podiatrists prescribe drugs, order physical therapy, set fractures, and perform surgery. They also fit corrective inserts called orthotics, design plaster casts and strapping to correct deformities, and design custom-made shoes. Podiatrists may use a force plate to help design the orthotics. Patients walk across a plate connected to a computer that reads their feet, picking up pressure points and weight distribution. From the computer readout, podiatrists order the correct design or recommend another kind of treatment.
To diagnose a foot problem, podiatrists also order x rays and laboratory tests. The foot may be the first area to show signs of serious conditions such as arthritis, diabetes, and heart disease. For example, diabetics are prone to foot ulcers and infections due to poor circulation. Podiatrists consult with and refer patients to other health practitioners when they detect symptoms of these disorders.
Most podiatrists were solo practitioners, although more are entering partnerships and multi-specialty group practices. Solo practitioners were primarily unincorporated self-wage and salary workers in offices -employed workers, although some were also incorporated of other health practitioners. Other podiatrist jobs are with the federal government and federal government hospitals not hospitals in general. Most podiatrists use the hospitals as places to do surgery and are not employed by the hospital. Many more are forming group practices with other podiatrists or health practitioners. Some specialize in surgery, orthopedics, primary care, or public health. Besides these board-certified specialties, podiatrists may practice other specialties, such as sports medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, radiology, geriatrics, or diabetic foot care.
Podiatrists who are in private practice are responsible for running a small business. They may hire employees, order supplies, and keep records, among other tasks. In addition, some educate the community on the benefits of foot care through speaking engagements and advertising.
Podiatrists usually work in their own offices. They also may spend time visiting patients in nursing homes or performing surgery at hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers, but usually have fewer after-hours emergencies than other doctors have. Those with private practices set their own hours, but may work evenings and weekends to meet the needs of their patients. They held about 13,000 jobs in 2002.
Prerequisites for admission to a college of podiatric medicine include completion of at least 90 semester hours of undergraduate study, acceptable grade point average, and suitable scores on Medical College Admission Test.