Many people draw a blank about whom they should to go to when something is troubling their feet. They know that podiatrists specialize in foot care, but orthopedists, also known as orthopedic surgeons, are just as qualified to treat foot injuries and disorders. So, the question is, “Is there really any difference between the two specialties?”
Orthopedists and podiatrists follow very similar educational tracks — to a point, that is. Both professionals must first complete an undergraduate degree before moving on to medical school. However, a podiatrist can go directly into a four-year podiatric medicine program, which then is followed by a three-year residency in podiatry. An orthopedist, on the other hand, would enter a four-year medical school and then specialize in orthopedic surgery during her five-year residency.
Like the educational path, there is some crossover in the duties of an orthopedist and a podiatrist. Both set fractures, perform surgeries and prescribe medications. Both diagnose and treat disorders of the bones, joints, muscles and other parts of the musculoskeletal system. But the podiatrist does this only when isolated to the foot, ankle and lower leg. The orthopedist works on the whole body.
Where you can expect to work also has some similarities. Both orthopedists and podiatrists work in group practices with other physicians and specialists. They’re also employed in hospitals, clinics and other health-care facilities. But the majority of podiatrists work in offices of podiatry, meaning they’re in an office that specializes in this specific branch of medicine. Orthopedists typically work as solo practitioners, members of orthopedic groups or members of a multi-specialty group practices.
Of all the differences between orthopedists and podiatrists, pay is probably the most significant. A survey published in “Becker’s Hospital Review” found that half of all orthopedist, or orthopedic surgeons, earned at least $501,808 a year in 2011. Podiatrists, however, didn’t make close to that. Their median wage was just $119,250 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even the top 10 percent of podiatrist earners made well under that of an orthopedist, with a base pay of just over $187,000 a year or more.
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Podiatrist
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Podiatrist
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Occupational Outlook Handbook – Physicians and Surgeons
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Career in Orthopaedics
- Becker’s Hospital Review: 200 Statistics on Physician Compensation
- MedicineNet.com: Definition of Orthopedist
- Stockbyte/Stockbyte/Getty Images