Dr. David Tran is a podiatrist in private practice in both San Francisco and Daly City, Calif., as well as assistant professor at the California School of Podiatric Medicine (CSPM) at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, where he teaches clinical podiatric medicine at Highland Hospital and runs a homeless clinic in San Francisco. Tran received a bachelor’s degree (Summa Cum Laude) in biochemistry and biology from San Francisco State University, then attended California School of Podiatric Medicine in San Francisco, where he earned a master’s degree in medical education, followed by a doctor of podiatric medicine (DPM) and then a podiatric surgical residency.
Dr. Tran also serves as associate director of admissions at CSPM, as well as special events chairperson and treasurer of the alumni and associates. He is also president of the San Francisco/San Mateo Podiatric Medicine Society component of California Podiatric Medical Association/American Podiatric Medical Association.
When did you first decide to become a podiatrist? Why?
I was first introduced to podiatric medicine and surgery when I was beginning to apply to allopathic medical school. Following the completion of my MCAT, I received literature about the profession and its many benefits and nuances. To gain a better understanding of the profession, I arranged to shadow a few local DPMs who were practicing close to my home. After seeing their work, their enjoyment of their profession/career, their great relationship with their patients, and their direct hands-on approach to medicine, I decided that this was a better medical career for me than general allopathic medicine.
How/why did you choose the podiatric medicine school you went to?
I researched all of the podiatric medical schools that were available nationwide at the time (eight in total), and weighed carefully all those attributes that best suited me as a student for my learning abilities and habits. School longevity and program strength/reputation/recognition were reassuring factors. Clinical training was also very important to me. The core determining factor for me was what could the school give me to take away with me after four years of a medical education, and less important was how “pretty” the school looked physically.
What surprised you the most about podiatric medicine school?
I had initially thought that podiatric medical school would be “easier” than traditional allopathic medical school, as the competition to get in was less due to not many people being aware of it. My advisors at undergraduate school certainly had never talked to me about the profession, and the rumors were that it would be easier. Well, the education was certainly rigorous and absolutely not easy. One of the many surprises was that I actually liked my medical schooling quite a lot. It was certainly hard, but there were also lots of moments of enjoyment.
If you had it to do all over again, would you still become a podiatrist? (Why or why not? What would you have done instead?)
I would do it all over again. There are many reasons as to why I would choose the same course again, but the most apparent is that I really like what I do/practice now. I enjoy waking up and going to work daily. I like my patients, and I like my teaching responsibilities. I think this was a very good career choice for me. I like medicine, I like to be able to make people feel better and know that it was by my hands that it was possible and not necessarily through a pill, and this career for the most part will permit me to do that. I am not necessarily writing prescriptions all day long.
Has being a podiatrist met your expectations? Why?
I believe so. Realistic expectations are key to being happy. If I can be happy for a significant part of the day doing my job and the result is making others feel better and happy, then it is worthwhile. My expectation(s) of a fulfilling career is one in which I would be happy in doing what I do. My current professional choice certainly fulfills that criteria.
What do you like most about being a podiatrist?
The ability to work with my hands, and knowing that I actually make my patients feel better as a result. It is extremely rewarding when patients tell you again and again that they look forward to coming in to see you because they know they will feel better when you are through treating them. Not many other medical careers can offer that nuance.
What do you like least about being a podiatrist?
The misconception that the public has about podiatric physicians through lack of understanding of our abilities and scope of practice.
What was it like finding a job in your chosen career field? What were your options and why did you decide what you did?
I was extremely fortunate to be able to obtain opportunities in private practice and in the educational arena. I joined a couple of practices as an independent contractor physician, and shortly thereafter obtained an appointment with the California School of Podiatric Medicine as part of the faculty team. I currently combine both of these opportunities in my weekly schedule. From a professional career options standpoint, I could have gone as a solo private practitioner, a full time independent contractor, an associate, or work for an HMO. I had always wanted to be a part of the academic arena, so when the opportunity arose that permitted me to combine private practice and education together, I took it.
Describe a typical day at work.
My daily schedule in private practice or clinic includes seeing patients with a multitude of foot and ankle problems. These can range from heel pain, ankle sprains, fractures, diabetic wound care, to simple things such as ingrown toenails, soft tissue infection and simple fungal nail care. Care can include modalities such as wound debridement, injections, athletic/sport strapping/taping, injections, casting, nail removal etc.
For those days that I am in the operating room, surgery can range from soft tissue, bunion, hammer-toe repairs to more complicated things such as ankle fracture correction. The bottom line is that there is a lot of direct hands-on contact with my patients, a quality about podiatric medicine that I like a lot.
On average: How many hours a week do you work? How many hours do you sleep per night? How many weeks of vacation do you take?
Most podiatric physicians work anywhere from 30 to 40 hours a week. I actually work about 40 to 50 hours a week by choice, since I am also in academics. I usually get about six to eight hours of sleep per night, and I average about four to five weeks of vacation time per year.
Are you satisfied with your income?
Of course not! I should be paid at least double! On a serious note, my current income is quite reasonable.
If you took out educational loans, is/was paying them back a financial strain?
I did, and the repayment was not a significant financial strain.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself 10 years ago?
I believe that I would tell myself to still go for the same career path. It is enjoyable, and the rewards include far more than the monetary aspect.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning podiatric medicine school?
I wish I had had the reassurance that this was a correct choice to enter into and that the investment would be worth it. Luckily for me, this was the case, but it would have definitely helped to alleviate some anxiety as I was going through the medical schooling.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in healthcare today?
The politics of medical insurance and medical legal documentation(s). The focus is shifted away from the healthcare and welfare of the patient, and more towards “profit” for the medical plans and the politics of medical legal issues instead.
Where do you see podiatry in 10 years?
The population of the U.S. is aging and there is a big push towards increasing the activity/health level of the general public. To keep the populous on the move, good lower limb care is essential, and we are the profession that does that. The demand can only increase. The question is whether healthcare and the politics of healthcare will recognize that.
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I work with our students at several homeless clinics in the San Francisco Bay Area. In addition, I work with a community clinic part time that focuses and offers care to minority groups.
How do you spend your free time? Any hobbies?
I love spending my free time catching up on movies and reading.
Do you have any family, and if so, do you have enough time to spend with them? How do you balance work and life?
I am single. I have plenty of time to spend with my immediate family and relatives. The balancing of work and life is quite manageable. One of the nice things about this profession is that I have the option to work as much as I want beyond the regular work week. However, if I want to have free evenings and weekends, I can certainly do that and still be comfortable.
Do you have any final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing podiatric medicine as a career?
Look at the profession and shadow a practicing physician. Make sure it is the path of your choice and you will not regret entering into it. It can be very rewarding and fulfilling. For those students who are simply looking into “medicine” but have not contemplated podiatric medicine, keep an open mind and actually go and see a podiatric physician at work. You may be pleasantly surprised and be turned on to a career path that is life changing.