Would You Choose Podiatry If You Had To Do It All Over Again?

John H. McCord, DPM

   Dinner was pesto salmon pasta with a pinot grigio white sauce. Dessert was apple crisp with vanilla ice cream. I had picked the apples from a tree in our backyard that morning.

   Dinner guests included Isaac, my best friend of 30 years, who is a semi-retired pediatrician. Joe, a semi-retired anesthesiologist who I worked with during the past 25 years, was another guest. Joe and I share a love of jazz and had visited jazz clubs in Paris last year. Christina, a 27-year-old with a beautiful smile and new MD diploma, was also with us.

   We cleared the table after dessert and served coffee and Grand Marnier. The conversation turned to our lives and careers.

   Christina was having a difficult time with her choice of specialties. Orthopedic surgery and OB/GYN were her top choices but she was still undecided.

   Joe asked Isaac when he had decided to become a doctor and then a pediatrician. Isaac knew when he was a small child that he wanted to become a pediatrician. There were challenges. Isaac is an African-American and grew up in the south when Jim Crow was the law and civil rights were in their infancy. The fact that he dropped out of high school to join the Air Force also presented an obstacle.

   Joe is also an African-American who grew up in the south and wound up taking advantage of educational opportunities in California. He received bachelor and masters degrees in biology, and then ended up in medical school. Civil rights had become law but both Joe and Isaac had to earn masters degrees to prove they could handle medical school.

   Christina took a direct path from high school to college, and then to medical school. She is frustrated to be at this stage of her training without any clear goals for specialty. Christina confessed she was not familiar with podiatry and asked if I had been an orthopedist who went on for fellowship training in foot and ankle surgery.

   I explained to her that I am not an MD but went to a podiatric medical school. I explained that podiatry school is much like medical school but there is emphasis on the lower extremity throughout the four-year program and that all of us go into podiatric residencies.

   The question of how I selected podiatry came up and I had no good answer. It was just a series of lucky opportunities that happened when I was 22 years old and restless for more knowledge.

   Christina was amazed at the wisdom of podiatry to train students toward a specialty. She wished she had been afforded such an opportunity. She commented that with a new MD degree she knew a little bit about a lot of medical science but would rather have more concentrated training in a specialty.

   I told my guests there are some DPMs who want to make our training more general to be more like allopathic medical schools. All of them agreed we were better off with the model we have now.

   The conversation shifted as we started on our second cups of coffee. Nobody had a second snifter of Grand Marnier. Christina asked all of us if we had to choose again, would we go into the same specialties?

   Isaac talked about his love of his work as a pediatrician and said he would certainly be a baby doctor if he had to choose again.

   Joe admitted he has thought about primary care such as family practice or internal medicine, where most of the patients are awake. He did like that in anesthesiology, when the procedure is over, he is done and does not have to follow all of the patient’s health issues forever. He would choose anesthesiology again.

   When the question of choosing podiatry again was asked of me, it was difficult to answer. I have loved the work but if I could go back to my second year of college and choose again, I admitted that I would probably become a teacher.

   Creativity is valued in teachers. Creativity in medicine is often called malpractice. As much as I enjoyed my work as a doctor of podiatric medicine, I felt trapped by the constraints called standard of care. If I could do it over, I would become an English teacher and place my emphasis on the average, ungifted students who so often blossom into our best authors.

   My pronouncement shocked my dinner guests. I was a bit shocked myself for admitting this. My wife, who is a retired teacher, understood completely.

Dr. McCord recently retired from practice at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.


Good article. A very honest and wise appraisal from a gifted writer, who most likely helped many people to walk without pain.

How brave! I think there needs to be more candor and camaraderie in podiatry. This presents an excellent example of the above. I, too, feel constraints on creativity in medicine just now: medicolegalities, time crunches, and declining reimbursement Here's hoping for positive change!

Wow! This was a great read.

Add new comment