Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner
Hi! My name is Courtney, and I am currently a third year Podiatric Medical student from Indiana, studying in Ohio. I hope that I can help those of you reading this learn a little more about the field of podiatry and what it is like to be a Podiatric Medical student.
What is Podiatry?
Podiatry is a medical specialty that deals with the study, diagnosis, and surgical treatment of the lower extremity. Podiatrists are qualified to treat diseases of the foot and ankle. Whether it’s sports medicine, dermatology, pediatrics, wound care, diabetic care, surgery, or biomechanics related, podiatrists are able to treat the many diverse aspects of foot care. Podiatrists can also be one of the first doctors to see systemic symptoms of a patient, such as vascular disease and diabetes. Podiatrists are valued members of a community health care team, and are able to help patients get back on their feet and living their best lives.
Podiatrists receive their medical education and Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM) from one of the nine podiatric medical colleges around the country. They also receive three years of hospital-based surgical residency training while undergoing board certification.
What is the difference between podiatry school and other programs like allopathic and osteopathic schools?
There are a couple key differences, but I’d say the main one is the fact that podiatrists go into medical school knowing what specialty they want to train in. This is unlike other medical schools because there you get a choice of many specialties like OB/GYN, orthopedic surgery, pediatrics, or psychiatry, and have a couple of years to choose what specialty interests you the most.
The great thing about podiatry is that we still learn all of the material an MD or DO school teaches during the first two years of our schooling. We are trained as doctors in the medical field, so we have to know everything about the body so when we’re thrown into situations during our rotations or residency, we know how to react. Some podiatrists have come back to discuss their lives in residency with those of us still in school, and they’ve had to deliver babies, run a code, and establish a life-saving IV.
Here’s an example of what my classes and life have been and will be while in podiatry school:
First Semester: We start our medical training by taking 7-8 classes a semester. It is very overwhelming, but definitely doable and so rewarding to start thinking like doctors. We start first semester by taking Gross Anatomy (from the head to the genitals), Histology, Biochemistry, Genetics and Embryology, Medical Ethics, Medical Research, Intro to Clinic, and Practice Management.
Second Semester: Second semester is regarded as one of the toughest semesters at our school. We take Lower Extremity Anatomy, Neuroanatomy, Physiology, Microbiology and Immunology, Intro to Clinic, and Physical Diagnosis.
The first two semesters are 27-28 credit hours each, depending on when you’re given time for Intro to Clinic. This is where we partner up with an upperclassman for the day and watch them as they treat patients in our clinics. Sometimes, they’ll even have you do some hands-on tasks. My first year, I had to remove a couple of warts from a patient’s foot and help give them a lower extremity exam, even though we hadn’t learned how to do that yet! I thought this was extremely helpful for me because I learn the best when something is hands-on.
Summer Semester: Yes, we have to go to summer school. This is where we start to learn more about the field of podiatry and what we will be doing for the rest of our lives. We take Lower Physical Diagnosis, Rehabilitation and Orthotics, Intro to Radiology, and Biomechanics I. These classes teach us the basics of biomechanical evaluations, prescribing orthotics, reading radiographs, and how to do a lower extremity evaluation on a patient.
After a long and sometimes grueling 12 months of school, you get to call yourself a second year. Second year comes with more free time to tutor, TA classes, and start studying for boards. Second year is about 22-24 credits a semester, so the course load is a little lighter, but more clinically inclined.
First Semester: Our first semester as second years is filled with clinical knowledge. We take Pathology, Pharmacology, Radiology I, Biomechanics II, Podiatric Medicine I, Practice Management, Intro to Clinic, and Standardized Patients. Standardized Patients is a class where we bring in some actors who act as patients in our clinic and we have to get a full history and presentation on them. We are recorded and we watch ourselves and learn how to better interact with patients.
Second Semester: We build upon the knowledge from first semester and start tying things together. We take Pathology, Pharmacology, Radiology II, Intro to Surgery, Podiatric Medicine II, Pod Med Skills, and Intro to Clinic. We get our first taste of surgery in Intro to Surgery, learning the basics of suturing, surgical techniques, and how the body heals after surgery. We also have a lab that teaches us how to scrub in, how to do basic sutures, and how to use screws in internal fixations. In Pod Med Skills, we learn how to do clinically based treatments for our patients, like basic tapings, castings, paddings, nail removals, and injections.
As you can see, we have many of the same classes as MD and DO schools for the first two years, with a couple of podiatry-related classes thrown in the mix. This is great because we start to study our profession and specialty earlier than other medical schools. This also contributes to why our residency programs are all only 3 years, as opposed to 7 years for other surgical related specialties. Podiatry is the fastest way to become a surgeon in the medical field, so if you love cutting people open and doing fixations and tendon transfers, consider podiatry!
The summer after second year is when we take our boards, just like other medical schools. Our exam is July 11th this year, so send me some positive vibes that day! The main difference between the APMLE and the USMLE or COMLEX is the fact that our boards are completely pass/fail, so there’s no pressure for us to hit a specific score to go into the specialty we want. Also, another big difference is the fact that our boards are 25% lower extremity anatomy, which is important because if we’re going to specialize in the lower extremity, we’d better be able to know the normal anatomy like the back of our hands (or feet)!
Third year is when we start to have more fun. We have classes Tuesdays and Thursdays and different clinic rotations on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Our clinic rotations last a month at a time, and they are the first time we get to interact with real patients instead of standardized actors. We also take General Medicine, Women’s Medicine, Surgery, Neurology, Dermatology, Podopediatrics, Sports Medicine, Traumatology, Behavioral Medicine, and Public Health Jurisprudence classes throughout the year. Here’s an example of my schedule for Third Year clinical rotations:
· July: Standardized Patients 2- We get to go to a hospital clinic or ER and start treating patients, and we learn how to put IVs in
· August: Surgical Skills– More scrubbing in, gowning, gloving, and suturing practice to prepare us for the OR
· September: Surgery- We scrub in on surgeries and watch them in hospitals all around the Cleveland/Akron area
· October: Biomechanic- clinical rotation at our school’s clinic
· November: VA rotation- We rotate through the Cleveland VA hospital, treating our veterans and their families
· December: Biomechanics- rotation at the Foot and Ankle Clinic downtown Cleveland
· January: Radiology- interpreting radiographs of the lower extremity
· February: Standardized Patients 1- Basic patient interaction, H&P, and diagnosis and treatment
Fourth year, we’re on our own. We set up month long clerkships at whatever residency programs we want around the country. This is pretty much like a month long interview for us so the programs get to know us better, and so we see if we fit in with the staff and their personalities. I’m planning to stay in the area I am in now for school, but I may travel back to Indiana and see what they have there.
Interspersed in fourth year are Boards Part II CK and CS, which is similar to what MD and DO schools have. We have clinical skills first in Philadelphia, where we get thrown into about 12 different patients’ rooms and are graded based on our interactions and how well we diagnose and treat them. Then in January we have a computerized clinical knowledge exam, where we take all of our knowledge of general medicine, biomechanics, radiology, surgery, and podopediatrics and use it to pass a standardized test.
We have a centralized residency program interview system instead of having to spend a lot of time and money flying to residencies and meeting with their directors for an interview. In mid-January, we all fly down to Texas to meet with the programs we potentially want to match into. Interviews vary depending on the program, but are often around 20 minutes long, and typically have a personal portion where the team learns more about you and your personality, and then a practical portion where they pimp you on questions and have you do tasks like suture quickly, play Operation, and make clinical decisions based on a case presented to you. It’s very stressful, but the end result is matching into the perfect program come March.
Each residency is surgery-based and at least 3 years long. Within those three years, you also get experience in other fields of medicine, such as vascular surgery, infectious disease, and neurology. We all graduate out of residency as surgeons, but different programs offer different opportunities and cases, so it is important to do your research and ask questions about programs and what they offer along the way.
Overall, podiatry is a diverse and growing field of medicine. I am incredibly excited to see where the field goes in the future and what role I will have as a podiatric physician in my community.