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What is a Podiatrist

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A Profession That Keeps You on Your Toes

Beyond getting in your 10,000 steps a day or splurging on a pedicure, if you're like most people, you probably don't give a second thought to your feet—until they start to ache. From bunions to hammertoes to fallen arches, podiatrists treat myriad conditions that can keep people people off their feet. Podiatrists must complete a four-year medical degree and three years of hospital residency following college. But all that hard work will pay off—as a podiatrist, you can earn a high salary.

Job Description

Since the ankle bone's connected to the foot bone, podiatrists treat not just toes, arches and heels, but also ankle and lower leg problems. Podiatrists diagnose and treat a wide variety of problems, including fractures, toenail fungus, heel spurs, ulcers and tumors. In addition, they treat congenital or acquired deformities that cause weakness or imbalance, using casting and orthotics. Diabetes, arthritis, heart disease and kidney disease can cause foot problems, and in these cases, podiatrists will refer patients on to other physicians.

Educational Requirements

If you were excited to head off to the lab to work with beakers and Bunsen burners in college and don't mind additional years of schooling, a career as a podiatrist might be for you. Once students have completed college with courses focused heavily on biology, chemistry and physics, they continue their education to earn a doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) degree from one of the nine accredited colleges of podiatric medicine around the country. Like other medical students, admission to podiatric medicine school requires a passing score on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).

To earn a DPM degree, podiatry students take courses in anatomy, physiology, pathology, pharmacology and other related subjects. But you haven't finished after you don your cap and gown. Fledgling podiatrists must then continue on to complete a three-year podiatric medicine and surgery residency at a hospital. From there, you're required to take the American Podiatric Medicine Licensing exam. Many students go on to become board certified, which takes a combination of experience and another exam.

Industry Trends

About 11,000 podiatrists work in the U.S., and most of them (64 percent) work in practices along with other health practitioners, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Some 10 percent work in a physician's office, while 8 percent are employed by the federal government. Records indicate that 7 percent are self-employed, while 6 percent work in hospitals.

Podiatrists who work in physicians' offices earn the highest median salary, $167,820. Those employed in offices along with other health practitioners can bring in $121,700, while podiatrists working in hospitals are the lowest paid, with an annual median salary of $104,360.

While podiatrists may not have as many late-night emergency calls as some other doctors, their schedules may not necessarily be 9‒5. Some offices are open late in the evenings or on weekends to accommodate patients' work schedules, while podiatrists who work in hospitals might be on-call or asked to work overnight occasionally.

Years of Experience

After hitting the books for years, most new podiatrists will have student loans to pay off. Initial salaries are the lowest, with entry-level podiatrists with zero to five years of experience earning an average salary of about $117,000, according to PayScale. But earnings increase from there. Once they have their feet wet, podiatrists on the job five to 10 years make $131,000, while mid-career podiatrists with 10 to 20 years earn $151, 000, rising to $157,000 for the most-experienced podiatrists.

Job Growth Trend

Demand for podiatrists is expected to grow more quickly than for many other professions, with a 10 percent job growth by 2026. As the population ages, there will be a higher need for foot care to keep older adults mobile and active. And rising rates of diabetes and obesity will also lead to an increased demand for podiatrists.