The scope of podiatry varies some between different states but generally includes the medical and surgical treatment of the foot, ankle, and governing structures from the leg. The foot is controlled by the muscles and tendons from the leg, so effectively treating foot problems requires an extensive understanding of the biomechanics of the entire lower extremity. Podiatric medical school is a four year medical school with more emphasis on lower extremity disorders than allopathic or osteopathic medical schools.
Once a person has completed a college premedical degree and four years of podiatric medical school, a residency program is entered. There are a few different types of podiatric residency programs, but podiatric surgical residency programs are necessary for one to become proficient in more complex foot and ankle surgery. The length of the programs varies from one to three years or more. Generally the first year incorporates the other relevant medical/surgical specialties, and subsequent years provide more intensive training for complex foot and ankle procedures. Some podiatric surgeons participate in fellowships in addition to their residency program.
The certifying board for podiatric surgeons is the American Board of Podiatric Surgery. For a podiatric surgeon to become certified he must take written and oral examinations as well as have cases reviewed. Prior to 1991 only one exam existed and offered certification in "Foot and Ankle Surgery". Since 1991 two separate certification categories have been established: Foot Surgery and Reconstructive Rearfoot/Ankle Surgery. A surgeon can become certified in "Foot Surgery" alone or, both "Foot Surgery" and "Reconstructive Rearfoot and Ankle Surgery". Those surgeons achieving certification in both of these categories have the most appropriate credentials for performing more complex foot and ankle procedures.
Foot & Ankle Surgeon vs Orthopedic Surgeon
Podiatric training involves four years of medical school with emphasis on lower extremity problems. The biomechanics of the foot and lower extremity are intensively studied. Orthopedic surgeons complete four years of general medical school. Podiatric surgical residency programs provide training focused on foot and ankle surgery. By completion of a multiyear podiatric surgical residency, participation in greater than 1,000 foot/ankle procedures is typical. An orthopedic surgery residency provides training for general musculoskeletal disorders. Aside from trauma training, relatively little attention is given to the foot. A few orthopedic surgeons with interest in learning more about foot surgery complete a one year foot/ankle fellowship. Understanding the biomechanics of the foot/ankle and having competency in appropriate surgical procedures offers the best chance of successful foot/ankle reconstructive surgery. It is in your best interest to learn the qualifications, training, and experience of your surgeon.
Most foot/ankle surgical procedures are covered by medical insurance plans.