Why I Became A Podiatrist

Author(s): 
Kevin A. Kirby, DPM

At least a few times a month, there are patients who seem to be interested in what prompted me to become a podiatrist. The typical question might be something like: “What made you want to become a podiatrist?” Another common question is: “What made you want to look at feet all day?”

   My story is that I started out as a runner. I was pretty good at all the sports that most boys played in Northern California during the 1960s, but I was not the best. It wasn’t until I started running cross country and track in junior high school that I found my niche in sports: long-distance running.

   One of the most memorable and motivational events for me and many other young adults during this time was seeing USA runners Frank Shorter and Dave Wottle win gold medals in the marathon and 800 meter races in the 1972 Olympic Games. Shortly after the Olympics, I devoted myself to long-distance running. Running one to two workouts a day and reading Runner’s World magazine from cover to cover each month, I became a long-distance running athlete.

   Unfortunately, along with the miles of running, came the running injuries. My first running injury came at the age of 16 at the lateral aspect of my right knee, stopping me dead in my tracks.

   Our family doctor told me I had tendinitis in the knee and that I should stop running so much, but offered no other useful medical advice. However, I had read in Runner’s World that lateral knee pain could be caused by too much lateral wear in the heel of a running shoe. Once I got new running shoes, my injury healed within a few weeks. I was ecstatic to be able to run and train again … with no help from our family doctor, thank you.

   My next experience of seeing a health professional for my running injuries, which were occurring about three times a year due to my 60-100 mile per week training as a teenager, came at the age of 19 after my first year of running for the University of California-Davis (UC Davis) cross country and track teams. I had heard from one of my running friends that his running injuries had been cured by getting things called “orthotics” that were made by a local podiatrist. George Sheehan, MD, a regular contributor to Runner’s World at the time, had also talked frequently about the benefits of orthotics for treating running injuries.

   After convincing my parents to help me out with the cost of getting orthotics for my frequent running injuries, I saw the podiatrist and told him that I thought I needed custom orthotics for my running injuries. The orthotics worked like a charm. Even though my mileage and training intensity had increased to improve my racing times, I did not get another running injury for two years after receiving my custom orthotics.

   After being treated by a healthcare professional who understood foot biomechanics and corrected my chronic running injury problems with orthotics, I was convinced that podiatry might be a good profession for me after I graduated from UC Davis. My driving motivation to become a podiatrist at that time was to become a sports physician who could treat other athletes, like myself, who were injured and needed someone who could help them continue to train and compete in the sport they loved.

   Now, after being exposed over 37 years ago to the helpful care of a knowledgeable and caring podiatrist, I more fully understand that it is critical that I pay back the favor to my patients and my own profession. I feel I owe the podiatrists, who have blazed the trail for me and my podiatric colleagues, a huge debt in giving me the knowledge that has allowed me to positively affect the lives of the people who now seek my own medical expertise on a daily basis.

   It is not the individual details of the story of “why you became a podiatrist” that are important. Rather, it is what others can learn from our development from youthful dreamers to healthcare professionals that is essential. Therefore, the next time that a patient asks you “why you became a podiatrist,” take a moment and share a little about your podiatric journey. Who knows? Maybe your story will plant the seed of interest in podiatric medicine within the mind of a future colleague.

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