Many people think of podiatrists as foot doctors. In fact, podiatrists are doctors that specialize in the study, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of ailments that affect the feet, the ankles and even the lower legs. Podiatrists are "real" doctors and many are certified in primary medicine. Although specializing in a particular medical discipline, podiatrists could conceivably practice in other disciplines as well, based on their education and expertise.
Podiatrists must study more than the feet when entering the field of podiatric medicine. While they must obtain a DPM (Doctor of Podiatric Medicine) degree, they also receive extensive training in areas such as radiology, anesthesiology, emergency care and different types of surgeries including orthopedics. They must usually complete an internship and a residency program to become board certified.
Podiatrists must obtain a license to practice. The prerequisites for acquiring a license vary by state, although most require podiatrists to have a degree and to pass certain exams and evaluations. If issued in one state, a license may or may not be recognized by another state. Podiatrists must check state laws to ensure that one state's license is recognized and accepted in any other state in which he or she hopes to practice.
Some of the issues podiatrists deal with are painful irritations of the feet including corns, bunions, plantar warts, ingrown toenails and toenail fungus. Most of these conditions are readily treatable, while others require more care. Podiatrists also treat problems like plantar fasciitis, "hammertoes," arch problems and circulation difficulties in the lower extremities often caused by diabetes. Podiatrists also prescribe orthotics when necessary.
If you suffer from any of these conditions or experience pain, numbness or cramping, it is a good idea to see a podiatrist for an examination. Tell the doctor about any illnesses such as diabetes, and let him or her know if you smoke or take medication. A podiatrist will examine the overall structure of your ankles and feet and look for irregularities that could lead to discomfort, infection or deterioration. He or she will then suggest treatment options to make your feet, ankles and legs healthier.
Podiatrists are available in hospital settings and clinics, and some have private practices. The cost of visiting a podiatrist varies, so make sure you are aware of the cost and find out if the doctor you hope to visit accepts your insurance plan.