by Joseph Baker
For many students looking for a career in healthcare, allopathic medical school is the only option that they have considered. While information exists on podiatry as a professional career choice, it can be missed behind the stacks of information on allopathic and osteopathic medicine.
Podiatry school, or podiatric medical school, is very similar to its allopathic and osteopathic medical school counterparts, with some key differences. The biggest difference is the degree earned. A graduate of podiatric medical school receives a doctoral degree of podiatric medicine, or a DPM. This degree certifies the graduate to be a complete and specialized physician of the foot and ankle.
Following graduation from a four-year podiatric medical college, a podiatrist will then go through three years of residency training. Podiatrists, or podiatric physicians, commonly treat sprains, strains, and fractures of the foot and ankle, biomechanical deformities, dermatological problems of the lower extremity, and many other conditions of the lower extremity.
As an undergraduate student, I knew that I wanted a career in healthcare, but I was not sure which aspect of healthcare would interest me the most. I shadowed several different doctors, including an internist, an otolaryngologist, and an orthopedic surgeon. I also shadowed a dentist and a pharmacist, and worked in a research lab with a microbiologist. I had lots of experiences with all kinds of healthcare professionals, but my decision to apply to podiatry school came after shadowing a podiatrist.
It was truly a great experience. The podiatrist that I shadowed was the most willing of any of the professionals to have me come to work with him for a day. In fact, I ended up going back several times to see various procedures, including both clinical and surgical operations.
The array of procedures that I observed would have been enough to turn me on to the field, but it was a comment from one of the patients that really had an impact in my decision. She told me that her podiatrist was her absolute favorite doctor, and the only one that she looked forward to seeing. It was right then and there that I knew that this was the profession was for me.
To be fair, I did have some experience working with foot and ankle injuries. I worked a part-time job in college in a running store, and was exposed to quite a bit of sports-related injuries. I think that this exposure contributed to my interest in the field of podiatric medicine, and the experience I had shadowing a doctor of podiatric medicine solidified my decision.
Now that I have been through one year of school and am beginning my second year, I can without a single doubt say that my decision to go to podiatric medical school was the best decision that I’ve ever made. The day-to-day learning that comes with an education in podiatric medicine includes the basic science curriculum seen in other medical fields, but tailored to podiatry. This gets me and my fellow students pumped up about learning, because we learn about our specialty much earlier than allopathic or osteopathic medical students. Right now I’m taking a sports medicine class, and we’ll be starting podiatric radiology soon. It’s great to begin learning about the specialty while still in school, rather than waiting until residency to begin training in a particular area.
A typical day for me in school involves either a full day of class, or a day spent in the podiatry clinic that is run by the school. In the clinic, we get lots of patient exposure and practice. We take the patient’s history, perform a focused physical exam, and may assist in procedures. I’ve seen lots of really interesting cases so far, and I’ve only just begun in the clinic. By the end of the second year I will have had a ton of interactions with patients, which is something unique to podiatry school.
As far as the curriculum goes, our classes are a lot like the classes at any other medical school. In fact, our podiatry school is at the same university as an allopathic medical school, and we take a lot of classes with the allopathic students. This helps to promote an interprofessional learning environment, something that is very common in healthcare. We as podiatry students take anatomy and pathology with the allopathic students, as well as our clinical reasoning course. It’s nice to have friends and colleagues in school that are going into different fields of medicine, because we will likely be working together in the future as physicians.
Being a podiatrist is an excellent career choice, and it is something that all pre-health students should consider. It is an option among many, but for me it is the best choice.