Taking Pride In Being 'Just A Podiatrist'

By John H. McCord, DPM

    I am a podiatrist plain and simple. I use the word podiatrist when people asked about my occupation or specialty. That is a struggle for some of my colleagues in this profession.     Many say, “I am a physician and surgeon of the ankle and foot (and in some states, parts of the leg).” It sounds like a box of chicken parts in the meat counter of a supermarket.     I like using the word podiatrist. This gives me a marketing opportunity when another person is not familiar with our profession.     I went to a podiatry school, not a medical school. What is left of my hair stands on end when I hear one of my podiatric colleagues say, “… when I was in medical school ….” That usually comes up in a conversation with a medical physician. This creates confusion and doubt among our non-podiatric colleagues. It can also lead to some embarrassing questions from the listener.     The first and last time I referred to myself as a physician among a bunch of allopathic physicians, a sarcastic ENT asked if a podiatrist could pronounce somebody dead. I answered, “You mean if I was to grab you by the neck and strangle you?” He dropped the topic. I quit using the word physician and reverted to the word podiatrist.     It is possible that someday our diplomas will be morphed into some kind of medical degree. That will probably be a very long time from now so we should stick to a word that accurately defines us. If you have to use the word physician, stick the word podiatric in front.     Another time to be correct about our profession is when we try to recruit a prospective podiatry student. At least one pre-med college student per year asks me about podiatry as a profession. I tell these students about the opportunities and challenges they will face if they enter this profession. There will be some challenges due to the fact that we are non-allopathic doctors. Students should know about this before they commit themselves to four years of professional school and two or three years of residency. There is nothing sadder than a second-year podiatric resident who suddenly realizes that not everyone will see him or her as a “real doctor.”     I like being exactly what I am: a podiatrist. Despite my lack of an MD diploma, I have held important leadership positions in the medical community, including chief of surgery, chairman of the hospital board of directors and president of the county medical society. None of my allopathic colleagues see a problem with including a podiatrist into their inner circle.     My young partner, who has excellent surgical training and has just passed the certification examination for the American Board of Podiatric Surgery, is taking a similar approach to establishing his identity in the medical community. He is the sitting president of the county medical society (not bad for a DPM four years into practice).     I have observed an identity struggle among podiatrists ever since I started my first day of podiatry school. It seemed silly to me when I was a student. I knew that I would emerge from the Ohio College of Podiatric Medicine in four years with a diploma that clearly defined my area of expertise. After a year-long podiatric surgical residency, I hung a sign in front of my first office that said, “John H. McCord, DPM, Podiatrist.” That seemed to be enough because I have been busy for the past 32 years.     My current office sign is little 2-inch white letters that simply say, “J.H. McCord, DPM.” I could also have included “DABPS” and “FACFAS” but then my name would hog two whole lines. The fact that my name is among a list of 25 other respected medical specialists is enough for me.     I knew when I entered podiatry school that I would eventually be known as a podiatrist. I am proud of my profession and what it has done for millions of suffering people. I am OK with being one little cog in the big wheel called medicine.     I am pleased to have played a part in guiding a number of intelligent young students into our profession. None of them have ever complained to me that podiatry did not live up to their expectations.     Start thinking of yourself and describing yourself as a podiatrist if you have not been in the habit of doing so. There are a whole lot of MDs and DOs who would love to be in the secure niche we have carved for ourselves in medicine. Nobody can do what we do as well as we do it. I am grateful as hell to be just a podiatrist.     Dr. McCord (pictured) is a Diplomate with the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. He practices at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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