Many people know about the steps in which a medical doctor earns their degree, but since podiatry is a more new and upcoming health profession it seems that the educational requirements are rather unknown to the general public. First off, medical school is different from podiatry school in that there are only 9 podiatry schools in the United States versus the approximately 160 medical schools. To begin the journey to become a podiatrist one must first finish 4 years of undergraduate education.
Then comes applying to podiatry school. Acceptance is based on undergraduate GPA, involvement, Medical College Admission Test (MCAT) score, and if offered, a day-long interview at the podiatry school. Upon acceptance, the length of podiatry school is four years, which is the equivalent to medical school. During the first two or three years (time dependent based on podiatry school), the general book learning is completed; this book studying is not just about the feet, but rather about a wide range of subjects. Some of the subjects covered during the first two or three years of podiatry school include: physiology, body anatomy, pharmacology, and biochemistry; these are just a few. You may be wondering why podiatrists have to know all these other subjects if they are only experts on the foot, but it must be remembered that the foot is attached to the entire body and not just the leg. Other health problems, such as congestive heart failure, infectious diseases, and many other health issues may have a direct impact on the feet.
After the first years of book work, the last two or one years are spent out on clerkships. Clerkships are meant to take the book knowledge gained and apply it directly to learning how to be a podiatrist. Clerkships are spent with various podiatrists that will teach students how to see patients, do surgery, read x-rays, etc. In addition, not all of the clerkships are specialized to podiatry, but some also involve spending time in other fields of medicine, such as emergency medicine to once again link the book work to understanding how and why the foot is impacted by the entire body. Lastly, two board exams must be taken; one after the second year and another during the fourth year of school.
Upon finishing podiatry school, the degree of Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) is granted. However, before a podiatry practice can be set-up a two to three year (most commonly three years) residency is required. The residency programs accept graduates based on GPA and once again another interview. However, during the time spent during residency, the foot and lower extremity is specifically emphasized, and the same podiatrist residency director will teach the resident for the entirety of the program. After completion of this residency and taking a third board exam, one can set-up their own practice or work in a hospital-based setting.
However, education does not stop at residency if one so choses, but with continuing medical education a fellowship title can be obtained. A fellowship is the additional study of a specific area of podiatry such as podiatric sport’s medicine, podiatric pediatrics, and wound care are just a few fellowship options. To gain this title, many hours of studying and research are required to ensure that the podiatrist is an expert in that sub-class of podiatry. A fellowship may take a year or two to obtain, with various board exams required; additionally, after gaining a fellowship title additional board exams must be take every couple of years in order to keep up with the constantly changing and new advances in the field.