What is Public Health?

Photo by Miguel u00c1.

Podiatry & Public Health: What is Public Health?

by Roberto De Los Santos.

Per the American Public Health Association, the term public health is defined as an interdisciplinary field in which it “promotes and protects the health of people and the communities” (1). It is an ever-growing field that analyzes all aspects of health in a population and works to prevent diseases.

The public health realm is composed of multiple specialties including physicians, nurses, occupational health, nutritionist, researchers, first responders, health educators, and so much more. You may be wondering, how did this all start? How did modern public health come to be? In the early 1800s, an English physician named Edward Jenner created a vaccination to treat smallpox (2). This sparked a cascade of laws and research that led to the Public Health Acts of 1848 (3). Since then, the care, sanitization, and prevention of disease have been incorporated into local communities around the world.

Public health works in multiple levels of society. They can be seen at your local grocery supply, participate in city health inspections, or help make decisions on world health matters such as currently seen by the World Health Organization (WHO) of the topic of Covid-19. Public health workers have been a part of your life, but you just didn’t realize it. For example, they work on educating people on risks of smoking through television commercials; they help regulate healthy foods at schools, promote the vaccination of children, etc.

So how exactly can a podiatrist contribute to public health? Podiatrists have a special integration in that they are physicians and surgeons so they split their work-life in the clinic, and in the surgery room. They are capable of detecting, preventing, educating, and promoting safety practices to prevent the spread of disease.

Early Detection and Prevention

As the population ages, we can expect to see patients with a multitude of diseases, such as diabetes and peripheral neuropathy, coming into the clinic. As podiatrists, we can tell a lot about a person’s health just by the symptoms and appearance and symptoms of these diseases on their legs and feet. For example:

Diabetes Mellitus – A patient may become concerned for finding large, thick calluses and dry skin on the bottom of their feet. They are having difficulty seeing, and they cannot trim their own nails anymore. You check their nerve sensation status and realize they have peripheral neuropathy. This is commonly seen in diabetes mellitus patients, and if not treated early, the patient can develop open infected sores on their feet called ulcers.

Peripheral Arterial Disease – A former smoker complains of severe pain on his left foot that is relieved when walking or dangling his foot on the side of the bed. He has no hair on his legs, and his foot is cold to the touch. He has poor blood flow circulating in his feet; if left untreated or uneducated, the patient can develop a non-healing wound or infection that can turn into a gangrenous foot, appearing as black discolored non-living tissue.

With early detection, podiatrists can help reduce worsened foot complications for their patients.

Educating the Patient

A podiatrist does 4 years of podiatric medical school followed by 3 years of residency. In that time, they learn a wide range of medical terms, surgical techniques, and clinical skills. At the end of the day, you must be able to convert all those difficult terms and complex teachings into a basic level of understanding for your patients. The rule of thumb is that you have to take a pathology and break it down to a high school level. Patients that are uninformed about their health will underestimate the threats of not getting treatment and may lose their foot.

A simple flyer with easy-to-follow information will give the patient a good understanding of their current health problem, give them options of conservative and surgical treatment, and explain the risks of what can happen if they do NOT seek treatment. Furthermore, a simple social media post, television commercial, or city-wide event on specific comorbidity (e.g. diabetes, arthritis, cancer) can help educate the masses at a city or national level and help spread awareness to all age groups.

Podiatry & Public HealthWhat can I do with a Podiatric Doctoral Degree and Public Health Master’s Degree?

  • Research
  • Professional Education
  • Administration
  • Expert Consultant
  • Promoting Foot health

There are several options you can pursue when you have a public health degree as a podiatrist. For example, you can become an administrator and plan programs to bring awareness to diabetic patients, children, school-based programs, and city/facility design. If you are more interested in working in an environmental aspect, you can focus on floor design and shoe gear specifications in a community. The podiatry and public health integration are still new; only a few dozen podiatrists have been able to attain both degrees. It is up to the current and future podiatrists to pave the way and expand on the groundwork of what was laid before them.


portrait 2020

by Roberto De Los Santos.



  1. “What is Public Health”. Apha.org. Online Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  2. Rhodes, Philip; Bryant, John H. (20 May 2019). “Public Health”. Encyclopædia Britannica.
  3. Ashton, John; Ubido, Janet (1991). “The Healthy City and the Ecological Idea”. Journal of the Society for the Social History of Medicine.
  4. “Dartmouth at a Glance”. Dartmouth College. Online Retrieved May 28, 2020.


Podiatry & Public Health

Special Edition, Education

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