Fighting Misperceptions About The Podiatry Profession

Camille Ryans

   There is a tendency for people to fear the unknown. Unfortunately, stereotypes abound about the incapability of the podiatric profession. It is up to everyone involved in the field directly or indirectly not to perpetuate this way of thinking.    Bias towards podiatry is a double-edged sword. On one side, the laypeople are constantly questioning the profession.    On the other end, medical professionals at times seem to have a sense of superiority because their names are prefaced by a similar title of “doctor” but followed by a different set of initials. Sometimes I will talk to people who think a podiatrist is a pediatrician. It is always a task trying to correct them without sounding like a smart aleck.    At least once a week, someone asks me, “What made you want to work on peoples’ gross feet?” I always answer the question quite simply. “I would rather work on feet than other parts of the body, which can be just as unclean.” The truth is that it is best to expect the unexpected. As medical professionals, we need to have a high tolerance for unappealing sights, smells and even touch. As is the case with every other occupation, somebody has to do it.    Another pet peeve is that the overwhelming majority of the population believes a podiatrist’s educational training is from the ankle down. They are unaware of the basic science requirements, clinical courses and rotations, which are similar to the traditional medical educational curriculum.    Podiatry school is not only the study of the foot. It is the study of the human body with an emphasis on the lower extremity. It is our responsibility to spread this message to the public. Often people do not know that the doctorate of podiatric medicine is a four-year, graduate-level course of study nor are they aware of the opportunities to partake in a post-graduate residency education.    However, after people are informed of the intense training and the profession’s similarity to the more familiar medical degree model, they are much more reassured, especially if your present patient is inquiring. I am actually eager to answer such questions because it means patients are concerned about their healthcare and it eliminates misconceptions. This only strengthens the podiatric medical profession.    What is more disappointing is the lack of knowledge about podiatry among other medical professionals, who are oblivious at times to the complexity of our training. Ironically, at many institutions, the same medical faculty teaches us and those in other professions.    In addition, podiatrists complete many medical rotations at the same hospitals with other medical residents and under the same attendings. However, at times, the faculty downplays our capabilities and withholds knowledge under the misconception that “you are just a podiatrist. You do not need to know this.”    In reality, we do need to know. Our patients have interdisciplinary medical teams and it is very necessary for us to be versed in the treatment regiments given to them by their other doctors.    In order to defeat this way of thinking, you should ask plenty of pertinent questions, attend conferences and learn as much as you can about every medical specialty. It is amazing how much the fields overlap and it will be essential to know how to communicate effectively with other physicians as they may be a source of referrals and/or consults in the future.    Before I enrolled as a podiatry student, I had no idea of the intricate nature of the foot and ankle. I just thought it comprised a small portion of the body’s overall surface area and it was needed for locomotion. I was surprised when I learned of the variety of pathologies involving this tiny appendage.    I am still amazed by the high number of individuals who suffer from foot and ankle ailments. Daily I see people wobbling around on crutches or canes, and there is never a slow day at the clinic treating conditions that may be less noticeable until patients remove their socks and shoes.    The inclusiveness of the podiatric profession is what is most exciting. It encompasses every aspect of medicine from basic patient care to reconstructive surgery. Its variety is incomparable and the sky is truly the limit. Podiatrists have accomplished everything from serving as faculty at renowned institutions to even headlining national television shows such as The View.    There is an uphill battle to advocating and defining podiatric medicine, but it starts one individual at a time by intelligently defeating adversity. Ms. Ryans is a fourth-year student at the Temple University School of Podiatric Medicine and is in the class of 2010. Dr. McCord recently retired from practice at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.

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