Podiatry is a specialty in medicine that deals with the feet, including the diagnosis and medical and surgical treatment of the various diseases, injuries, and deformities that can affect the feet and ankles. A doctor who specializes in podiatry is a podiatrist.
A podiatrist is a specialist, so there's a chance you may never have visited one before. If you're having foot problems and need to schedule an appointment, or if you're moving somewhere new and don't have a referral, read on for everything you need to know.
Where to Start
When you're looking for a podiatrist, there are a few resources you should tap into. You might start with your primary care physician or family doctor, who is usually ripe with specialist recommendations. Two fantastic online resources include The American Board of Podiatric Medicine and the American Podiatric Medical Association. Both have tools that can help you find a podiatrist in your area.
Another extremely helpful resource to consider is your insurance company. Depending on your insurance, you may have to see certain podiatrists that participate in your plan. Your insurance company should be able to provide a list of podiatrists to choose from. If you choose to see a podiatrist that is outside of your insurance plan, you'll probably have to pay out of pocket for it. The last thing you want is a surprise bill in the mail. Check with your insurance company first to avoid a snafu.
What to Ask a New Podiatrist
You've found a potential podiatrist. Now what? There are still a few things you need to know and questions you need to ask before you make an appointment, like:
Is the practice accepting new patients? It's not unheard of for established practices to stop accepting new patients. If they're full, ask if the podiatrist would be able to make a referral to one of his or her colleagues.
Where is the practice located? Oftentimes people like their health care providers to be conveniently located near their home, school, work, etc.
Is the office handicap accessible?
What are their office hours? You want to be sure their hours work with your schedule. Some practices offer extended early, late and weekend hours to accommodate busy schedules.
How long does it take to get an appointment? What about emergency appointments? If your issue is pressing, you might be better off checking somewhere else.
Does the office have x-ray and a lab on-site? Having to go elsewhere for certain services might be an inconvenience. You might want to look for an office that does offer onsite services.
What hospitals and surgical centers is the practice associated with? Are those the places you'd choose if you needed to go to the hospital or have surgery?
Who covers for the podiatrist when he or she is out of the office?
Is the podiatrist board qualified and certified? This becomes even more important if you're working with a podiatric surgeon. If you're getting surgery, ask how many times and how often they have performed the procedure.
After Your Appointment
After your first visit, ask yourself: Did the doctor listen to my questions and treat me with respect? Did the doctor take the time to explain my diagnosis and answer my questions?
Just because you've had one appointment with a new podiatrist doesn't mean you have to stay with the practice if you don't feel comfortable there. There absolutely needs to be mutual respect and trust between you and all of your doctors, not just your podiatrist.
If you want to find a new podiatrist, call the closest teaching hospital's podiatry department and ask if any past podiatric chief residents practice in the area. Chief residents are selected by faculty and fellow residents, so they usually have excellent clinical and interpersonal skills.
Podiatry Education, Training, and Licensing
The typical education for a podiatric physician includes 4 years of undergraduate, premedical training at a college or university followed by four years of podiatric medical school to earn a doctor of podiatric medicine degree (D.P.M.), and then a residency of 2 to 4 years for postgraduate education and training.
After residency, some podiatrists wish to sub-specialize and complete a fellowship. Fellowships are at least one additional year of training in a particular area. Some examples include sports medicine, research, dermatology, trauma, wound care, and diabetes. The extra training is designed to help the physician become an expert in that area. Depending on your own health, you may want to see a podiatrist who has received a specialized education.
Physicians must meet and verify certain state requirements in order to obtain a license to practice medicine. Each state has its own set of requirements. You can also find out if there has been any disciplinary action taken against a podiatric physician by calling your state's board of podiatry or by visiting their website.
There are specialty boards that certify physicians. For example, some podiatrists perform surgery. They may wish to become certified by the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery. Usually, a physician must meet certain requirements and pass a written exam to become board-qualified.
The next step is to become board-certified. Once the physician has enough cases, meets more requirements, and passes written and oral exams, they are board-certified. A doctor just completing residency or fellowship will most likely be board-qualified because they don't have enough cases to be board-certified. Becoming board-certified takes time, usually years. The important thing is that the doctor is on the path to becoming board-certified.