What is a podiatrist ?

Podiatric medicine, or ‘podiatry’ is a single track medical profession, focusing entirely on the assessment,  treatment and prevention of foot and lower leg ailments.  It is the only medical level profession that dedicates itself exclusively to foot and ankle health and wellness.  Podiatrists are often also referred to as foot doctors.

Podiatric medicine is concerned with the examination, diagnosis and treatment of disorders and diseases affecting the foot, ankle and the lower leg by medical, surgical and biomechanical methods of treatment.

The scope of practice for podiatric medicine is set out in the Podiatrists Regulation under the BC Health Professions Act (HPA).  The scope includes surgery on the lower leg and foot.

The term ‘podiatrist’ is sometimes used in connection with a different level of training, but throughout the U.S and in BC and Alberta, podiatrists are highly trained ‘doctors of podiatric medicine’ or DPM’s.

The DPM training is a post-baccalaureate 4-year program; students generally must have a four-year  undergraduate degree in science and pass the Medical College Admission Test with a sufficient grade before being admitted to podiatry school.

The first two years of podiatric medical school are very similar to the first two years of general medical school.  The final two years of the DPM program and residency training focus on the practice of medicine of the lower leg and foot.

Graduation is followed by residency training – usually 3 to 4 years duration, and national board exams.  Many podiatrists then go on to further specialist training in an area of podiatric medicine.


What do podiatrists generally treat ?

Podiatric surgeons are concerned with disorders of the foot and ankle. They are qualified to diagnose and treat bone, joint, ligament, muscle and tendon disorders, injuries and pathologies of the foot and ankle, including:

–  structural including congenital deformities, including bunions, hammertoes, painful flat foot and high arch deformity, and bone spurs

–  trauma-related foot and ankle injuries, including fracture and dislocations and post-traumatic arthrosis

–  soft-tissue and muscular pathologies including plantar fasciitis

–  neurological and circulatory diseases

–  arthritis

–  infections

–  heel pain

–  nerve entrapments

–  degeneration and arthrosis of the joints of the foot and ankle

Podiatrists diagnose and treat many complications and conditions that affect the lower limb, ranging from skin and nail disorders such as corns, warts, moles, fungus, calluses and ingrown toenails to more complex problems such as sport injuries, corrective surgery, boney foot deformities needing reconstructive surgery, and side effects from other medical conditions such as diabetes.  Podiatrists also provide preventative care, addressing foot conditions before they become a problem.

Podiatrists provide highly expert wound care; a particularly critical matter with chronic and high risk patients such as diabetics and the elderly.

Podiatrists provide comprehensive and continuing primary care to patients in their offices, and in hospitals, surgical facilities, long term care facilities and community centres that host clinics for various patient groups.

Podiatrists assess, diagnose, prescribe, treat and assess treatment efficacy.  In addition to diagnosing and treating patients with acute podiatric medical issues, podiatrists provide preventive and wellness care, particularly for high risk patients – for example, diabetics, the elderly and those in need of a very high level of wound care.   Podiatrists where appropriate will manage a patient’s illness by referring a patient to, and collaborating with podiatric colleagues and other medical and health professionals.

As doctors of podiatric medicine, the scope of practice for podiatrists includes surgery.   Podiatric surgery is described as the surgical treatment of conditions affecting the foot, ankle and related lower extremity structures by accredited and qualified podiatrists.


What does a podiatric specialist do ?

A ‘specialist’ in podiatric medicine is a podiatrist who has taken advanced training, beyond the podiatric medicine degree and residency, to become ‘board certified’ by a specialty board.

Specialist areas include:

–  foot surgery

–  bone and joint disorders

–  diabetic foot care

–  children’s foot disorders

–  disorders common to seniors

–  sports medicine

–  post surgery wound care


How does one become a specialist  ?

The two podiatric specialty boards that are currently recognized by the College are:

–  the American Board of Podiatric Medicine recognized as the certifying board for the specialty areas of podiatric orthopedics and primary podiatric medicine; and

–  the  American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery, recognized as the certifying board for the specialty area of podiatric surgery including reconstructive rear foot/ankle surgery.

Before a registrant may advertise themselves as a specialist in a discipline of podiatry, they must be ‘Board Certified’ by a podiatric specialty board.


How to find a podiatrist

The main urban areas have the largest concentrations of practitioners; however, podiatrists are also located and provide services in towns across the province.

To locate a podiatrist near you, see the searchable ‘Podiatrist Directory’ on this website or our Geographic Directory.