Our Master of Science in Medical Science (MSMS) opens doorways to medical school and a wide range of other professional healthcare careers. One of the least well-known career pathways is podiatric medicine, which focuses on care of the foot and ankle.
Feet and ankles are incredibly complex. Each foot has 26 bones that support an intricate webbing of muscles, ligaments, blood vessels, arteries, and nerve endings. Doctors of podiatric medicine (DPMs) provide a full range of care for this crucial lower extremity. In treating patients, the work DPMs do can include aspects of dermatology, wound care, surgery, sports medicine, infectious disease management, and more.
If you are interested in working in athletic performance, elder care, or with diabetic patients, choosing to pursue a DPM instead of an MD or DO may be the right path for you. In this article, we offer an overview of what podiatrists do, what to know about applying to DPM programs, and general information about their career outlook.
The Impact Podiatrists Can Make
Podiatrists very rarely work on emergent life-or-death cases, but they do have the opportunity to make a profound impact on their patients’ comfort and quality of life. DPMs can:
- Treat ingrown toenails, corns, callouses, bunions, ankle sprains, and other painful conditions that impact mobility and comfort
- Perform surgery on the foot and ankle, including repair of fractured or malformed bones, torn ligaments and tendons, etc.
- Monitor and treat potential foot issues in patients with diabetes or heart conditions, who are at high risk of circulation issues that can lead to amputations without intervention
- Work with athletes to correct issues with gait and foot balance in order to improve performance
- Treat infectious diseases that affect the feet, such as the athlete’s foot fungus
- Create or design casts, splints, and custom orthotics for feet and ankles that support healing or correct movement issues
- Contribute to new developments in the field through clinical research
Getting into a DPM Program
Applicants to DPM programs must hold a bachelor’s degree, complete undergraduate science prerequisites, and take the MCAT, just like MD and DO students. They also apply through a centralized admissions portal. Unlike MD students, DPM applicants don’t have to complete secondary applications.
According to the Step Into Podiatry website, which is sponsored by the AACPM and several podiatry-related professional organizations, the average MCAT score for podiatry applicants is 494 and the average GPA is 3.3. While this is lower than the 511 average MCAT and 3.75 GPA for MD matriculants, the curriculum DPM students tackle once accepted is very similar.
There are very few podiatry schools. According to the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine (AACPM), there are only 11 DPM programs in the U.S. as of 2023. As a result, the overall number of applicants is lower than those who apply to MD programs. The AACPM reports that there were just 910 applicants to DPM programs in 2021, a tiny fraction of the 62,443 people who applied to MD programs that year (page 4).
However, in spite of the lower number of programs and available class spaces, acceptance rates are higher for DPM programs. Only 23,711 of MD program applicants (page 8), or 39.7% of applicants, were accepted in 2021. By contrast, 648 of the 2021 DPM program applicants were accepted, for an acceptance rate of 71.2%.
What You Learn in a DPM Program
Aspiring podiatric physicians complete four years in a DPM program. The AACPM reports that the curriculum of a DPM program overlaps greatly with an MD or DO program, particularly in the first two years.
DPM students learn general anatomy and physiology, microbiology, biochemistry, pathology, and pharmacology. In the third and fourth years, they’ll complete clinical work that includes general diagnosis as practiced by other physicians, along with DPM-specific experience in orthotics and prosthetics.
Licensure Exams, Residencies, and Getting Started in a Career
During their DPM program, students take board exams just like their MD and DO counterparts. Currently, DPM candidates take the American Podiatric Medical Licensing Examination (APMLE) instead of the US Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). Like the USMLE, the APMLE is taken in three parts.
After graduating from their DPM program and passing the APMLE, the next step is to apply for a residency. Here, DPMs have a clear advantage over their MD and DO counterparts. First, while MD and DO students often have to travel to multiple sites to interview for residencies, podiatric residency programs arrange an annual centralized meeting that applicants attend, allowing them to complete multiple interviews in one location.
Also, while MD and DO students can struggle to be matched to a residency due to a shortage of spaces, DPMs currently have a 99% average match rate. Finally, is only one type of podiatric medical residency, and that is a surgical residency which lasts three years.
Career Outlook and Salary Information
Podiatrists tend to report that they have a more manageable work-life balance than other medical specialties. According to surveys conducted by the AACPM, podiatrists work an average of 40 hours per week, and can balance one-on-one treatment in their office with surgical practice at hospitals or outpatient clinics. This lets podiatrists build personal relationships with patients in a way that may not be available to physicians in other surgical and medical specialties.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be 300 new job openings for podiatrists per year from 2021-2031. This accounts for vacancies caused by retirements as well as growing demand for specialized foot care.
The median annual salary for podiatrists was $145,840 in May 2021. Salary will vary by employer, job market, and the focus of a podiatrist’s practice—for example, podiatrists in Idaho earned the most in 2021, at a median annual salary of $208,680. The states where the most podiatrists worked were New York, Florida, California, Texas, and Illinois.
How Our MSMS Can Help You Take the First Step
If you think podiatry might be for you, our MSMS can help you strengthen your candidacy. The courses you’ll take mirror the first year of coursework in a DPM program, and you can receive advising and support as you prepare your application. Find a Tiber Health MSMS program near you to get started!