The importance of caring for feet has been important dating back to ancient Egypt. We weren't called podiatrists back then, in fact, the term used for a podiatrists used to be chiropodist. This term is still used in some regions of the world, but podiatry as a profession began gaining a name, importance and organization around 1895. Podiatrists began their first medical journal in 1907 and the first podiatry school started in 1911.
The school that your very own Dr.'s McNeill, Arain and Doyle went to was founded in 1912 by Dr. Scholl. So YES-he was a real doctor, not just a name of a company...though his legacy lives on greatly because of the inventive treatments and solutions that are now commercially available. Dr. Scholl graduated from the Chicago Medical school in 1922 and among other things invented metal clips for ingrown nails, pads and also the original arch supports which were patented in 1904 when his company was started.
So we have come a very long way since the start of podiatry. Initially, podiatry focused on many what we refer to as dermalogical or skin conditions. Management of nails and calluses of the feet was and for some people remains the 'bread and butter' of the profession. However, the training to become a podiatrist has evolved over the years, equipping our profession with experiences and education that now allows treatment of nearly any condition that can occur in the foot or ankle. This includes athletic injuries, foot deformity, warts, infections, diabetic foot conditions, tendonitis, plantar fasciitis and fractures. The care we offer ranges from conservative treatments to surgical.
To become a podiatrist, a 4-year undergraduate education and taking medical entrance exams is required. These entrance exams are the same which all MD's take. Once admission to podiatry school is gained, we complete a 4 year medical education program. Many of the didactic classes taken are actually alongside medical doctor student who will ultimately specialize in anything from internal medicine to cardiology to cardiothoracic surgeons, orthopedic surgeons, dermatologists, etc. We all start with the same ground work.
When the basics of medicine have been mastered in podiatry school, our classes become more specialized, even before graduating from medical school. This differs from medical doctors, as they do not focus on their specialities at least until they begin residency - and some not until fellowship. Our podiatry school education includes classes on lower extremity anatomy after our regular anatomy, where we get into the minute details of what makes a foot. We complete courses in foot and ankle surgery and have rotations to allow preparation and practice of surgical procedures prior to going out into the world and seeing patients in residency.
Our last couple years of podiatry school is spent in rotations at various podiatry residency programs as well as in courses on foot and ankle radiology. We see patients under supervision and with assistance of established podiatrists and begin to determine what subspecialties we may want to pursue after residency. Through a match process, after these rotations, the residency programs rank candidates (us, the students at that time) by how much they desire the candidate to attend their residency program and we (as students) rank the programs we most wish to work for to complete our training. In March of our final year, we find out where we matched and then complete our final rotations while preparing to move across the state or country to begin residency.
Residency training decades ago was not required in order to go out into the world and treat patients conservatively or surgically, as this training was started during the school program. Since that time, the value of continued experience has guided our profession to require a residency and up until about 10 years ago, this could have been 1, 2 or 3 years of surgical training. Since about 10 years ago, all podiatry residency programs are mandated to span a full 3 years which optimizes experience and helps build skills and confidence to perform foot and ankle surgery. Fellowship training is becoming more popular in recent years to further subspecialize in various reconstructive procedures.
There are multiple boards recognized within podiatry and most podiatrists pursue board certification to further define themselves professionally. As you can now more clearly see, podiatry as a profession has worked (and continues to work) tirelessly to ensure that we are truly the experts in foot and ankle care. We are a stronger profession every year, contributing research and training and providing education and treatment to our patients to make a difference in peoples' lives. Most of us are on our feet every day, step-after-step and as podiatrists we pride ourselves on reducing pain that could otherwise greatly affect your quality of life. We strive to improve function and reduce the risks of deformity of the foot and injuries to help you continue doing what you love to do!