The Job and What's Involved

Podiatrists (also known as chiropodists) are specialists who diagnose and treat conditions affecting the lower limb.

The work is varied and may include:

  • Offering advice on foot care.
  • Providing long-term care for people at high risk of foot injury or disability, for example those with diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or cerebral palsy.
  • Screening children for foot problems.
  • Treating sports injuries.
  • Carrying out minor surgery such as nail surgery or laser treatment.
  • Assessing and treating patients in general clinics for problems such as verrucae (warts) or athlete's foot.

Podiatrists may use specialist equipment to diagnose and treat different disorders. This includes:

  • Treadmills and video equipment, to analyse the way a patient walks.
  • Electrotherapy machines.
  • Chemicals, to treat a range of disorders.
  • Local anaesthetics when performing surgery.
  • X-ray machines, to help in diagnosis.
  • Individually-designed insoles, known as orthotics, made by podiatrists or by orthotic technicians in a laboratory, using grinders and shaping equipment.

Some podiatrists work in general clinics. Others specialise in areas such as:

  • Podiatric surgery.
  • Biomechanics and gait assessment.
  • Podopaediatrics (working with children's feet)
  • Sports injuries.
  • Orthotics.
  • Forensic podiatry (research, and working with the police and solicitors on criminal cases).
  • Podiatric care of patients with diabetes, rheumatism and vascular disease.

Podiatrists have frequent contact with other healthcare professionals, including GPs, orthotists, nurses and care workers. Sometimes a foot care assistant provides basic care and advice. This frees the podiatrist to treat more complex problems.

Podiatrists within the NHS work 37.5 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Part-time or flexitime work is often possible. Self-employed podiatrists have variable working hours and may see patients during evenings and weekends.

Podiatrists within the NHS may work in hospital wards and outpatient clinics, or in GP's surgeries and health clinics. They may visit patients' homes, schools and residential care homes. Some podiatrists work in laboratories.

Those in private practice may work in their own clinics or in a range of locations, including sports clubs, fitness centres, complementary health clinics, businesses or prisons. Some podiatrists offer treatment in the stores of major pharmacies.

Podiatrists often travel to visit patients, so a driving licence may be useful.

Podiatrists in the National Health Service (NHS) may start on around £19,166 a year. NHS podiatrists in and around London receive extra pay and allowances.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The number of podiatrists has grown steadily and there are now just over 12,500 working throughout the UK. The NHS is the largest employer of podiatrists, but there are also many working in private practice. Some combine NHS and private work.

Vacancies may be advertised in local and national newspapers, as well as in Podiatry Now. They are also advertised on websites such as www.jobs.nhs.uk (for England and Wales), as well as on the website of the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists.

Education and Training

To practise as a podiatrist, an entrant must have a degree in podiatry.

Degree courses are offered at a number of universities across the UK. Courses usually last three years full time. Entry requirements vary, so candidates should check with individual institutions. Entry is usually with at least two A levels/three H grades, including a science subject, and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3). A level/H grade biology is often preferred.

Universities look for good interpersonal skills as well as an understanding of podiatry. Relevant work experience or work shadowing may increase a candidate's chance of gaining a place.

Entrants have their backgrounds checked to make sure that they are suitable for working with children and vulnerable adults. They are also medically screened.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Podiatry degree courses cover subjects such as anatomy, pathology, sports science, physiology, surgery, pharmacology, health psychology and orthopaedics. Students also spend some time on work placements, in settings such as outpatient clinics, hospitals and GP's surgeries.

After gaining their degree, students must register with the Health Professions Council (HPC) to be able to work as podiatrists.

To maintain their registration, podiatrists must undertake Continuing Professional Development (CPD). They can do this through activities organised by colleges, universities, and the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists. Activities include study programmes and training events.

Qualified podiatrists can take a whole range of further specialist training. An example is surgery. All podiatrists are involved with nail and minor soft tissue surgery. Some go on to train further as podiatric surgeons, and surgically manage bone and joint disorders within the foot.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Podiatrists should:

  • Have strong communication skills, both verbally and in writing.
  • Be able to get on well with people of all ages and from a wide variety of backgrounds.
  • Be good at working with their hands, as much of the job is practical.
  • Have a caring nature.
  • Be able to explain complex issues in a simple way.
  • Be skilled at problem solving.
  • Be calm and reassuring for patients who are anxious or in pain.
  • Be capable of working on their own initiative and independently from other medical practitioners.
  • Be well organised and able to keep accurate records.
  • Have good business and administration skills if self-employed.

Your Long Term Prospects

Most podiatrists begin their careers working in general clinics within the NHS. They may progress within the NHS by specialising or taking on management responsibilities.

After gaining experience, some podiatrists set up in private practice. They may run their own clinics or offer their services to industry, sports clubs and other sectors.

There are opportunities for experienced podiatrists to become university lecturers or researchers, although this would normally require a Masters degree.

Overseas work may be available.

Get Further Information

Health Professions Council (HPC), Park House,
184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866
Website: www.hpc-uk.org

The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists,
1 Fellmonger's Path, Tower Bridge Road,
London SE1 3LY
Tel: 020 7234 8620
Website: www.feetforlife.org

Working in the NHS:

England: NHS Careers, PO Box 2311,
Bristol BS2 2ZX
Tel: 0845 606 0655
Website: www.nhscareers.nhs.uk

Scotland: NHS Scotland
Tel: 0845 601 4647
Website: www.nhscareers.scot.nhs.uk

Wales: NHS Wales Careers
Tel: 01443 233472
Website: www.wales.nhs.uk

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