The Difference between a Podiatrist and an Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Specialist
Although both podiatrists and orthopedists treat foot and ankle conditions, they have very different training and expertise. A podiatrist is not a medical doctor and does not attend medical school as an orthopedist does. Unlike medical doctors, podiatrists are not required to complete a post-graduate residency, although some do complete a brief residency. In post-graduate residencies physicians follow a standard, practical curriculum, work under the scrutiny of more experienced physicians, and are required to meet certain benchmarks in order to be deemed to have complete the residency successfully.
By law, a podiatrist who does not complete a surgical residency may still perform podiatric surgery upon graduation from podiatry school. Many podiatrists simply open a practice or associate with a more experienced podiatrist and hone their skills on their own patients. Podiatrists in private practice who perform surgery in their offices are not required to undergo scrutiny of a hospital credentialing committee which generally delineate the scope of a physician’s practice and place limitations on the type of procedures and operations a physician may perform at that hospital consistent that that physicians’ training.
Many podiatrists, however, lack training in specialized techniques compared to orthopedists and may also lack an appreciation of the entire body, including medical conditions that may affect a patient’s overall health including the health of the foot and ankle.
Podiatry offices are not hospitals, and are often not certified ambulatory care centers. Nonetheless, many podiatrists perform surgery on bones of the foot and ankle in their offices, often in an examining room, where there is an increased risk of infection and a risk of delayed definitive treatment if a medical emergency occurs. Infection prevention includes proper cleaning of the office surgical site, proper air flow and filtration of particles, and proper construction of the surgical site to limit areas that could accumulate dust. Hospitals are required to follow certain infection prevention standards set out by state and federal regulatory agencies. A podiatry office is not held to such standards.
A significant difference between a podiatrist and an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in foot and ankle is the level of training each completes. An orthopaedic surgery subspecialist completes 4 years of medical school and a 5-6 year orthopaedic surgery residency. Many also complete an additional year of subspecialty training known as a fellowship devoted to diseases and injuries of the foot and ankle. These so-called “fellowship-trained” foot and ankle specialists have the most advanced, specialized training in treating foot and ankle conditions.