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The Job

Podiatrists see patients who are having problems with their feet. To determine the nature of foot problems, podiatrists talk with patients and visually examine their feet. Sometimes, in order to make diagnoses, podiatrists take X-rays, perform blood tests, or prescribe other diagnostic tests.

Podiatrists treat deformities, such as flat or weak feet and foot imbalance, by mechanical and electrical methods, such as whirlpool or paraffin baths and short wave and low voltage currents. They also treats conditions, such as corns, calluses, ingrowing nails, tumors, shortened tendons, bunions, cysts, and abscesses by surgical methods, including suturing, medications, and administration of local anesthetics. Podiatrists also treat injuries to the foot and ankle, such as breaks and sprains and can prescribe medications when necessary.

The method of treatment varies considerably depending on the patient's problem. For some patients, podiatrists prescribe physical therapy sessions or give instructions on how to perform certain exercises. For other patients, podiatrists prescribe medications, either to be injected, taken orally, or applied in ointment form.

Some foot disorders, such as ingrown toenails and warts, may require minor surgical procedures. Podiatrists typically perform these kinds of procedures in their offices. Other disorders require more extensive surgery, for which patients may be anesthetized. For this kind of surgery, a podiatrist must use a sterile operating room, usually either in a hospital or an outpatient surgery center.

Another responsibility of podiatrists is to fit patients with corrective orthotic devices, or orthoses, such as braces, custom-made shoes, lifts, and splints. For a patient who needs an orthotic device, a podiatrist makes a plaster cast of the patient's foot, determines the measurements and other characteristics needed to make the device, and sends the information to a manufacturing plant called a brace shop. When the device is complete, the podiatrist fits it to the patient and makes follow-up evaluations to ensure that it fits and functions properly. The podiatrist may also make any modifications or repairs that are needed.

Podiatrists frequently treat patients who have injured their feet or ankles. A podiatrist may wrap, splint, or cast a foot to keep it immobile and allow it to heal. In more complicated cases, podiatrists may perform corrective surgery.

A key responsibility of podiatrists is recognizing serious health disorders that sometimes show up first in the feet. For example, diabetics are prone to foot ulcers and infections because of their poor blood circulation. Symptoms of kidney disease, heart disease, and arthritis also frequently appear first in the feet. A podiatrist must be alert to symptoms of these diseases in his or her patients and refer them to the appropriate doctors and specialists.

Podiatrists provide foot care in private offices, hospitals, ambulatory surgical centers, skilled nursing facilities, and treatment centers or clinics. They also work in the armed forces, government health programs, and on the faculty in health professional schools.

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