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The Real Poop

We should probably get this over with early: Being a podiatrist requires that you put your best foot forward. Give your patients a foot, and they'll take a mile. Don't put your foot in your mouth.

Now that we've gotten a few foot puns out of our system, we can talk podiatry. A podiatrist specializes in everything south of the ankle; namely, problems with feet. Set foot in a podiatrist office, and you can expect an examination, diagnosis, and treatment for a huge range of issues, but you'll have to foot the bill (okay, now we’re done).

Foot problems are a lot like puppies. You never really think about them until you have one, and then it seems to take up a lot of your time. Plus, they spend most of their time on the floor and can get pretty smelly. There are lots of potentially debilitating problems you can run into with your feet. Podiatrists work with medieval-sounding foot funkiness like corns, flat feet, bone spurs, and bunions. These issues can arise from injury, disease, wear and tear, and birth defects. Patients may be newborns or old folks with one foot in the grave. And podiatrists meet these head on, waiting on patients hand and foot (actually, just foot).

The fact is, when someone has a problem with their feet, getting medical attention is the first thing on their minds. Foot issues are a serious hindrance to living a productive life, because they affect our ability to get from one place to another. And movement ranks up there as pretty darn important. How else can you get from the couch to the refrigerator and back in one commercial break? This fact makes podiatry a valuable contribution to our society's locomotion.

Sound like something you might like to do? Is your tolerance for toe jam something you brag about? Does cutting custom corn pads for Grandma fall on your social calendar? Then you must be wondering how to get your foot in the door (or keep it out of the door—otherwise, you might need a podiatrist).

To become a podiatrist, you will need to be a people person, because those feet that come walking through your door are, in most cases, attached to people. Ankles, knees (keep looking up), stomach, neck, head...bingo! A person. So get used to working with people, and making them comfortable when they are in pain. You will also need to ask lots of questions, because foot problems may be a result of lifestyle habits, wearing the wrong shoes, past injuries, or serious health issues like diabetes or gout—and it will be your job to figure it out.

You will also need to be smart because podiatrists are—wait for it—doctors! That means going to school for lots of years, studying tons, and interning for a long time. How long are we talking about? The training and qualifications to be a podiatrist start with a four-year undergraduate degree, preferably in something medical (such as pre-med). You will then need to attend four years of medical school, graduating with a Doctorate of Podiatric Medicine before spending three to six years as a resident or intern.

The fun doesn’t stop there! After these years of studying and training, keep putting one foot in front of the other, because you will need to earn your license and certification. Licensing varies by state, but you will need to take an exam to earn it and be able to practice in a specific state. Many podiatrists then earn certifications by the American Board of Podiatric Surgery through work experience and more exams.

All of this work is not for naught. You will want to be the best podiatrist you can be, and not start your career off on the wrong foot. If you are still reading, all that preparation—and the terms "ingrown toenail" and "trench foot"—haven’t turned you off, which is wonderful. The world needs more podiatrists. Think about it—as the population grows, the number of feet grows exactly twice as fast.

Once you have all of your titles, degrees, licenses, and certifications, it’s time to hit the ground running. You will have two choices—opening a private practice or joining or forming a group of medical practitioners. If you decide to open a private practice, you will need some business savvy, because a private medical practice is essentially a small business. This means that you will need to be good at hiring and supervising support staff, maintaining records, keeping track of inventories, and ordering supplies. Private practices may offer higher salaries once a successful business is established, but the trend is toward more podiatrists joining medical practitioner groups for the associated stability and benefits.