Podiatrist Q&APodiatry

20 Questions: Jeffrey M. Whitaker, DPM, FACFAS

Dr. Jeffrey Whitaker knew at a very young age that he wanted to be a doctor, though his specialty remained uncertain until he discovered podiatric medicine as an undergraduate pre-med student. Having graduated Magna Cum Laude with his Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from California State University-Long Beach, he later completed a second Bachelor in Cell and Molecular Biology with San Francisco State University, followed by the successful completion of his Doctor of Podiatric Medicine degree from the California College of Podiatric Medicine, which is now Samuel Merritt University. Dr. Whitaker graduated from the DPM program with Honors, ranking 4th in his class, and completed his three-year foot and ankle surgery residency with Western Pennsylvania Hospital, in Pittsburgh.

Before beginning his current position, Dr. Whitaker served as the Surgical Podiatrist for Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center in California. He has received extensive training in diabetic limb salvage, elective forefoot/rearfoot/ankle surgery, reconstructive surgery of the foot and ankle, foot and ankle trauma, and the application of external fixators. Dr. Whitaker now spends his days serving as the Head of the Division of Foot and Ankle Surgery and Biomechanics at KSUCPM, as well as a staff surgeon at the Cleveland Foot and Ankle Clinic and the Cleveland VA Medical Center. These positions include lecturing, training residents, operating, completing clinical work, research/writing, and administrative duties. While managing 2-3 full days in the OR, he truly enjoys the synergy of learning that occurs when he lectures to KSUCPM students on a particular surgical topic, soon followed by those students getting involved in the care of his patients.When asked for the best applicable advice to the start of one’s career, this is what Dr. Whitaker had to say: “Get the best hospital and surgical training from your residency (even if that means moving somewhere else). Following your training, you will then have the leverage to work where you want and in the type of practice you want.”
When did you first decide to pursue a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM)? Why?
I realized that I wanted to be a doctor, specifically a surgeon, early on in my life (definitely under the age of 10). I found podiatric medicine as an avenue to achieve that when I was a undergraduate pre-med student.
How/why did you choose the school you attended?
At the time that I applied and matriculated, there was only one school in California, and in the west for that matter. Since I was from California and living there at the time, it was an easy decision for me.
What surprised you the most about your podiatry studies?
I am not sure if I was surprised as much as pleased that with each course completed and with each new building block of knowledge added, I could feel myself transforming into a problem-solver and a critical-thinker – skills that I could envision applying to the care of patients in the future.
If you had it to do all over again, would you have followed the same academic path? (Why or why not?)
Yes. It has afforded me the intellectual challenge, the ability to contribute to society and impact lives, and the financial stability that I desired.
Has being a podiatrist met your expectations? Why?
Being a podiatrist and a trained foot and ankle surgeon has allowed me to attain the vision I had for myself as a child.
What do you like most about being a podiatrist? Explain.
Most of all, I enjoy impacting lives with the work of my hands.
What do you like least about being a podiatrist? Explain.
The billing and coding side of the profession. Doctors and surgeons should be doctors and surgeons.
What role do you currently have?
I am Head of the Division of Foot & Ankle Surgery and Biomechanics at the Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine. I am also a staff surgeon at the Cleveland Foot and Ankle Clinic and the Cleveland VA Medical Center. These roles involve lecturing, training residents, operating, clinical work, research/writing, and administrative duties.
Describe a typical day at work; Walk me through a day in your shoes.
Every day is different in my world – and this is a good thing. On Mondays I am in clinic all day seeing pre- and postoperative patients. On Tuesdays I am in my college office engaged in writing, lecture preparation, and surgery preparation for the week. Tuesdays are also administrative meeting days. On Wednesdays I am in clinic at the VA Medical Center in the morning and in the Operating Room (OR) at the VA in the afternoon. On Thursdays I am in the OR in the morning and lecturing to 3rd-year podiatric medical students in the afternoon. On Fridays I am in the OR all day.
What is your favorite aspect about working with students on a daily basis?
I enjoy the synergy of learning that occurs when I lecture to students on a particular surgical topic and then this is followed by those students being involved in the care of one of my patients in the clinic or the operating room with the same pathology or procedure that was lectured on.
How much time do you spend in the OR in a given week?
2-3 full days
What types of outreach/volunteer work do you do, if any?
I speak to pre-med students on multiple campuses on a volunteer basis about our profession.
Podiatrists earn a different degree (DPM) than other medical students. What is the difference, and why should students consider earning their DPM instead of going the MD or DO route?
The truth of the matter is that Podiatry is a surgical subspecialty by nature. Because of this, the DPM pathway is one that leads to a hands-on surgical practice of some type via surgical residency training.
What different types of practice are available for someone who goes into podiatry?
Though every DPM will receive surgical and hospital training during residency, not every podiatrist chooses to have a surgical practice. Routine care, office-based, and even sports-medicine practices are possible…and necessary.
In your position now, knowing what you do – what would you say to yourself when you were beginning your career?
Get the best hospital and surgical training from your residency that you can (even it means moving somewhere else for that training). Following your training, you will then have the leverage to work where you want and in the type of practice that you want.
What information/advice do you wish you had known when you were beginning your studies?
Fortunately, I did know the above advice and it propelled me to seek out a challenging residency training environment.
From your perspective, what is the biggest problem in health care today?
I alluded to this above but I truly believe that doctors and surgeons become better doctors and surgeons when that is all they have to be concerned with. When you spend a good portion of your day thinking about practice management, coding/billing, and other financial issues, then you do not spend that time advancing yourself in the art, craft, and science of medicine and surgery.
Where do you see podiatry in five-ten years?
I see the profession continuing to build a strong presence in the hospital and surgical care of patients.
What is the typical work/life balance like for a podiatric surgeon?
After spending many hours listening to surgeons from all other specialties talk about their hours and their care burden, I am convinced that the podiatric surgeon has a much better opportunity to adjust their work/life balance in the direction of life and family.
What is your final piece of advice for students interested in pursuing a career in podiatry?
Podiatric Medicine and Surgery is a great option for achieving the goal of being a physician and surgeon.

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