January 27, 2020

Should Your Patients Be Seen by a Podiatrist or a Foot and Ankle Specialist?

“Podiatrist” and “Foot and Ankle Orthopaedic Surgeon” seem to be interchangeable titles to patients and referring physicians as they search for a specialist to address a specific need. What factors determine which may be the appropriate choice? We’d like to explain the similarities and differences when it comes to determining which specialist to see. 

A podiatrist is a Doctor of Podiatric Medicine (DPM). These specialists train for four years at a podiatric medical school, with specific training in the diagnoses and treatments of the foot and ankle. That is followed by an internship and residency, which may be up to four more years of training specifically in treatment of the foot and ankle. While podiatrists aren’t fellowship trained, their specialized focus throughout their schooling is dedicated to those areas.

 Podiatry is typically associated with routine foot care, such as warts, bunions, and cutting toenails. However, many of the services that podiatrists are capable of have changed over the last 10 to 15 years. Today’s podiatrists do a lot of orthopaedic work. For example, if a patient has a broken ankle, they should be referred to a podiatrist. Diversity in podiatric care may include bunions, arthritis, joint replacements, ligament surgery and flat feet. 

Foot and Ankle Orthopaedist 
Foot and ankle specialists/orthopaedists are trained as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) in orthopaedics first, before subspecializing in the foot and ankle. These specialists attend medical school and complete an internship, followed by four years of residency for general orthopaedics. They may also complete a fellowship, where they are trained for a full year in their subspecialty: foot and ankle. Foot and ankle specialists are trained as orthopaedic doctors, so they are prepared to care for the whole body medically and musculoskeletal- wise. In fact, there are 10 years of full body training before they subspecialize in foot and ankle. Cases can vary between reconstructive and surgical cases, such as bunion deformities. A foot and ankle surgeon/orthopedist also may offer services such as ankle ligament reconstruction, total ankle replacement, and arthroscopies.  

Podiatrists and foot and ankle orthopaedic surgeons are specialists trained with similar principles, but with different approaches in training and education. Podiatrists spend most of their schooling and training specifically in the ankle and foot, while foot and ankle surgeons take a wider approach and focus not only on the foot and ankle but the body as a whole. There is significant overlap in what both specialties can and are willing to treat. The choice to choose either for any ailment may be dependent on its cause, the placement and severity of the injury, or whichever specialist the patient and/or referring physician feels the most comfortable consulting.

John Duerden, MD

Jeremy Walters, DPM

John Duerden, MD is a Board certified Orthopaedic surgeon practicing with Sports Medicine & Orthopaedic Center in Chesapeake. Jeremy Walters, DPM is a Board certified Foot Surgeon practicing with SMOC in Franklin. Smoc-pt.com