Matthew: Why Podiatry?

Why podiatry? What advice would you give an undergraduate student interested in this profession?

Having been afforded the opportunity to pursue both DO and MD degrees, I ultimately decided on pursuing the DPM route largely as a result of my desire to enter such a procedure-driven specialty. As a podiatrist/podiatric surgeon, there is a reasonable expectation that your typical work week may be shared between clinical hours and in the operating room.

The time spent inside a clinic may consist of a variety of hands-on treatment modalities available to patients such as injections, wound care, joint reductions, castings, and even amputations. In contrast, you may find yourself performing a variety of procedures in the OR, ranging from bunionectomy and joint fusions (aka hammertoe surgeries) to trauma cases and highly complex surgical procedures such as ankle replacements and complete reconstructions of the rearfoot. In many ways, the end result of your training is similar to that of an orthopedic surgeon who pursues a one-year foot and ankle fellowship: you are a foot and ankle surgeon performing the same procedures, and in many cases even more due to your additional training in areas such as dermatology, endocrinology, neurology, and rheumatology.

If you are a pre-medical student interested in pursuing surgery – particularly orthopedic surgery – podiatry is an excellent path towards accomplishing this goal from the very first day of medical school. Although many DO and MD candidates may desire to pursue surgical specialties at the onset of medical school, the vast majority will ultimately end up not matching into these specialties. While at times these non-surgical matches could simply be due to students changing their minds, in many other cases a candidate’s residency application could suffer due to highly volatile predictors for surgical residency competitiveness such as your Step and/or COMLEX scores. Conversely, as a DPM candidate, there exists a clear and straightforward pathway toward graduating medical school and matching into three-year foot and ankle surgical residencies in many orthopedics departments around the United States.

DPM profession has evolved over the years..

Similar to the DO profession, the DPM profession has evolved over the years in a similarly robust way. While some criticism in the past – such as DPMs not having equivalent systems-based learning relative to their MD counterparts – has been a bit overblown, the profession has nonetheless met this challenge head-on and silenced many of these critics. In the 21st century, all nine programs have increasingly shifted their curriculums to be extremely systems-based without sacrificing the requisite surgical training. Additionally, of the nine DPM programs currently in existence, four of these – Des Moines University, Midwestern University, Rosalind Franklin University, and WesternU – have taken this initiative a step further, electing to integrate their DO/MD and DPM programs, meaning that as a DPM student, you will be taking classes with either DO or MD students (depending on the school you ultimately decide to attend), taking the same exams and participating in many of the same rotations such as Family Medicine, Dermatology, Emergency Medicine and Trauma, Endocrinology, General Surgery, Internal Medicine, Neurology, and Pediatrics, among others. The real fundamental difference that currently exists between DPM and MD programs is that as a DPM student, you will have less electives relative to MD students simply because you’ll need to fit in rotations for your surgical training. However, in my opinion, this trade-off is worth it when you consider the fact that you will get to engage and assist with a variety of core surgical rotations such as Orthopedic Surgery and Vascular Surgery.

Another factor contributing to this being such a fantastic time to pursue this field is the anticipated opening in the near future of a tenth DPM school at the University of Texas. This program, founded by one of the most accomplished and renowned leaders in the field of podiatry in Dr. Lawrence Harkless, will feature yet another integrated curriculum with UT’s MD program. This will mean that five out of ten programs will incorporate these integrated learning models.

While making the decision to attend medical school can be a daunting endeavor, choosing to attend a DPM program can be an incredibly worthwhile investment. Podiatry is one of the few fields that offer the potential to choose your specialty from the very beginning, thus eliminating the stress that corresponds with the high degrees of uncertainty associated with DO and MD programs. Additionally, numerous studies and surveys show that podiatrists collectively experience some of the highest rates of job satisfaction in medicine, and at the end of the day you will have accomplished your goal of becoming what you want most: to be a licensed physician.

Matthew Sieckert

Arizona College of Podiatric Medicine