Last Updated on June 26, 2022 by Laura Turner
As a podiatric medical student, I often get asked about my daily life and the ins and outs of how our curriculum differs from a DO or MD program. I hope I can help those of you reading this come to know what it is like to be a student in podiatry school.
Our schooling is not all about feet! We spend our first two years of school learning about the entire body and its processes just like MD and DO students. We do get extra podiatry-related classes tossed into our schedule early on, but most of our time is spent learning about the body and how systematic diseases and pathology can affect the lower extremity.
I wake up, shower, and get ready to leave by 7. Thankfully my morning commute in traffic is only 30 minutes long, so I always get to school early and have enough time to eat breakfast in the cafeteria and settle in for my long day. My first class is at 8, so I use my extra morning time to review the class material, read First Aid, or relax my brain before we get started.
Our first class of the day is Pathology. This is my favorite class because I’m a very visual learner, so being able to learn how diseases progress and how that appears in the body is really interesting to me. We usually have class and then we have case problems where we have to research the pathophysiology of a disease, how it presents, and how to treat it. This really gets us to think like doctors, and I enjoy the challenge. Our professor pimps us one by one at random about the case, so we have to come to class prepared and knowledgeable about the topic.
Our next class is Podiatric Medical Skills (Pod Med Skills). This is where we learn the different clinical techniques to treat patients in our clinics. In this class, we learn tapings, injections, paddings, debridement of ulcers, biomechanical evaluations, and other methods to conservatively treat our patients and their lower extremity problems. For instance, if a patient walks in with plantar fasciitis pain, we could give them stretches to do at home, tape it for support, administer a steroid injection, or we could have it surgically cut to relieve the pressure.
Today, we’re learning how to cast for orthotics. Our professor shows our group the different techniques to cast and how to set the plaster, and then we break off into smaller groups to try it on each other. It is so important to learn to cast correctly because as a podiatrist, you’re trying to capture the shape of the foot so it can be placed in the correct biomechanical position with the orthotics. After the plaster sets and we can remove the cast, we can send it off to an orthotics manufacturer and have the orthotics made. Once we receive the orthotics back, we can shape it to the patient’s shoes, add padding, and even add material to correct for more biomechanical factors, such as a forefoot varus or valgus.
This class is always so much fun because it’s all hands-on, and it is so enjoyable to learn various methods to treat our patients. As podiatrists, our patients can come to us with a problem, and leave our office in less pain, which makes them very happy. High patient satisfaction is common for podiatrists, and being able to have a patient feel better quickly is one of the reasons why I chose the field of podiatry.
We have an hour break for lunch before our afternoon starts. Usually I’ll grab a quick lunch from the cafeteria and review my class material some more, or I’ll chat with my classmates. We had a professor tell us on the first day of school first year that he enjoyed teaching first year medical students because he loved seeing a room full of people who didn’t know each other become really close friends by the end of the year. He was right; you grow really close with the people around you when you’re going through something as tough as podiatric medical school. I’ve met some of my best friends for life by last minute cramming for an exam or grabbing coffee with them in between classes.
After lunch, I head down to the anatomy lab to TA the first years in Lower Extremity Anatomy. It’s their second semester anatomy class, and as you can imagine, it’s incredibly important for them to see all of the structures in the lower extremity because that’s our specialty. Each student and their lab partners are responsible for dissecting properly and carefully to preserve the structures so they can be tested on them when the exam rolls around. The exam is split into a lab portion and a lecture portion. The lab portion consists of all of the bodies being tagged for specific structures and the students have to go around one by one to each table and have one minute to figure out what’s tagged. It’s an intense situation, so they have to be extremely prepared for the exam in order to do well.
It’s time for radiology class. This is where we start to learn how to interpret radiographs, MRIs, and CT scans of different pathologies that affect the lower extremity. It’s a very interesting and informative class, and incredibly useful for when we go out into clinic and externships. We are expected to know how common diseases present in the foot and ankle, how to measure angles of the foot for surgery, and how to place the foot and ankle when taking radiographs in clinic.
I leave our campus and head for home around now. Rush hour traffic is horrible, but I eventually make it home. I cook dinner for my family and settle in for the night. I try not to study when I’m home so I can spend quality time with my little family, which helps me to rest my mind for the next day. Of course when exam week rolls around again, I have to spend some time studying at home, which helps me not cram for an exam the night before.
Generally, every day is different for us. Our school records our lectures for us, so sometimes it’s nice and convenient to spend the day watching lectures and studying from home or the library. We also have Surgical Skills Lab, Pharmacology, and Podiatric Medicine classes the rest of the week, so our schedule is extremely varied, which I enjoy because we get to study different aspects of medicine each semester. We also have weekly journal clubs, conferences, workshops, and club events, so as you can imagine, our school keeps us on our toes and very busy!
As I go to bed, I run through my mental checklist of everything that I had to do today and everything that I have to do tomorrow. It does feel overwhelming sometimes, having to go to classes, study for those classes, teach other students, and study for boards all at the same time. It feels like there’s not enough time in the day to get everything done, but somehow I make it through and move on to the next day. Being a podiatric medical student is not for everyone, and time management is super important, but I love being able to do what I do everyday, and I’m grateful for the life I live.