Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM)
A podiatrist is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM), known also as a podiatric physician or surgeon, qualified by their education and training to diagnose and treat conditions affecting the foot, ankle and related structures of the leg.
When treating patients, this system is also known as the lower extremity. Podiatric physicians are uniquely qualified among medical professionals to treat the lower extremity based on their education, training and expertise. Podiatrists are defined as physicians by the federal government.
A DPM is a specialist in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of lower extremity disorders, diseases and injuries. A podiatric physician works independently, utilizes x-rays and laboratory tests for diagnostic purposes, prescribes medications, orders physical therapy, sets fractures, and performs surgery. As part of a healthcare team, the DPM works closely with other health professionals to treat and control disease.
Within the profession, podiatric physicians can specialize in a variety of areas such as surgery, orthopedics, or public health. Besides these certified specialties, podiatrists may practice a subspecialty such as sports medicine, pediatrics, dermatology, radiology, geriatrics, or diabetic foot care. Podiatric physicians are the only doctors to receive specialized medical and surgical training, and board certification in the care of the lower extremity.
What does a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine do?
Practitioners of podiatric medicine treat a variety of ailments and employ innovative techniques to improve the overall well-being of patients.
The Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) is a vital member of the health-care team. He or she is often the first to detect symptoms of diabetes or cardiovascular disease because of the human foot’s interrelation with the rest of the body.
In an average day a DPM may:
. Provide individual consultations to patients concerning continued treatment of disorders and preventive foot care.
. Diagnose foot ailments such as tumors, ulcers, fractures, skin or nail diseases, and congenital or acquired deformity such as weak feet and foot imbalance.
. Use innovative methods to treat conditions such as corns, calluses, bunions, heel spurs, ingrown toenails, arch problems, shortened tendons, cysts, bone disorders, and abscesses.
. Design corrective orthotics, plaster casts, and strappings to correct deformities.
. Design flexible casting for immobilization of foot and ankle fractures, sprains, or other injuries.
. Correct walking patterns and balance, and promote the overall ability to move about more efficiently and comfortably.
. Refer patients to other physicians when symptoms observed in the feet indicate disorders, such as diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, or kidney disease.
Where do DPMs work?
DPMs are able to practice in a variety of settings including:
. Private or Group Medical Practice
. Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)
. Preferred Provider Organizations (PPOs)
. Hospitals and Extended Care Facilities
. S. Public Health Service
. Department of Veterans Affairs
. Armed Forces
. Municipal Health Departments
. Health Professions Schools
After completing the four-year curriculum required by podiatric medical schools, a new podiatric physician is required to participate in residency training.
In general, a minimum of two years of postgraduate residency training is required in an approved healthcare institution. Board certified podiatric physicians are required to have two years of residency training. A residency provides an interdisciplinary experience with rotations such as anesthesiology, internal medicine, infectious disease, surgery, ER and pediatrics.
Residency training provides a combination of medical and surgical experiences that are competency-based. Podiatric medical graduates select a 36-month Podiatric Medicine and Surgery Residency (PMSR) that includes training in rear foot and ankle surgery.
Licensing and Board Certification
State licensing requirements generally include graduation from one of the nine accredited schools and colleges of podiatric medicine, passage of the National Board exams, postgraduate training and written and oral examinations. National Boards are taken in two parts while in podiatric medical school. Part I covers basic science areas and is generally taken at the conclusion of the second year. Part II has a written exam and Clinical Skills Patient Encounter (CSPE) components of the examination. The CSPE portion assesses proficiency in podiatric clinical tasks and the written examination covers clinical areas such as Medicine; Radiology; Orthopedics, Biomechanics and Sports Medicine; Anesthesia and Surgery; and Community Health, Jurisprudence, and Research.
Podiatric physicians may also become certified in one or both specialty areas: primary care and orthopedics, or surgery. National podiatric specialty boards grant certification to qualified podiatrists who have completed the specified educational requirements and who successfully complete written and oral examinations.
The American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA) is the professional organization for DPMs.
The APMA has component societies in every state including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Because these jurisdictions impose continuing podiatric medical education requirements for license renewal, educational programs and seminars are developed and presented each year by the colleges, as well as the state associations and the national podiatric medical association. The APMA represents approximately 80% of DPMs throughout the country.
The mission statement for the organization states “(t)he American Podiatric Medial Association, Inc. is committed to advancing the profession of podiatric medicine for the benefit of its members and the public by ensuring the highest quality foot and ankle care”.
Benefits and Income Potential
The work hours of a podiatric physician vary from less than 40 hours a week to 50 hours or more per week.
In general, the practice of podiatric medicine lends itself to flexible hours and is therefore comfortable for individuals who want to make time for family, friends and other involvements that characterize a balanced lifestyle.
In 2013, APMA members reported earning, on average, $181,120 in the previous year. Twelve percent of respondents earned $250,000 or more in the previous year, while 18.3% of practicing podiatric physicians reported earning less than $100,000. Earnings of podiatrists depend upon geographic location, type of practice, number of patients seen per week, years of experience, etc.
Also reporting data from 2013, the BLS further breaks these figures down by working environment, geographic choice, and earning potential for current and future employment opportunities. According to the BLS, over 86% of employed DPMs work in an office with other health care providers. These DPMs reported earning between $134,170 and $167,450 in 2013. Podiatrists in New Hampshire, Minnesota, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Delaware are reportedly the highest paid podiatric physicians in the U.S. earning, on average, $166,852 or more each year.
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