When I first applied to medical schools, a DPM program was not on my list. I was disheartened when I did not get into any MD or DO programs, and I thought the best way to improve as a candidate would be to gain more medical experience. It was only after I started working as a medical assistant for a podiatrist that I fell in love with the profession, and the next time I applied for medical school, I chose to apply only to DPM programs.
When I first worked for that podiatrist, I shared the common misconception that she went to “podiatry school” rather than “medical school.” What many people do not realize is how similar the road to becoming a DPM is in comparison to an MD or DO.
People may not know that to qualify for any of the programs—whether DPM, MD or DO—a student must maintain a high GPA and earn a bachelor’s degree while demonstrating an ongoing interest in leadership, medicine and volunteer work. The student must also score exceptionally well on the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT) and obtain letters of recommendation from faculty and physicians as part of the lengthy application process.
Each program takes four years to complete, requires a residency prior to practicing under one’s own license and allows the doctor to obtain a fellowship after residency.
The curriculums are also strikingly similar. Like MDs and DOs, DPMs learn and master anatomy, physiology, pathology, biochemistry, pharmacology and immunology of the entire human body.
In addition, each degree requires a residency in the chosen field of practice and the completion of board certification as well as an option to complete a fellowship in an ultra-specialized area.
Since all three degrees are so similar, why did I ultimately choose podiatric medicine?
First, podiatrists are both physicians and surgeons. I have always wanted to run a private office where I build relationships with patients over the years yet I also wanted to perform surgery. As a DPM, I can do both.
There are also practical reasons why podiatric medicine appeals to students. For those graduating with an MD or DO degree, there are only enough residency placements for approximately 75 percent of graduates. Since a residency is required to practice medicine, that can leave many without the promise of a job. In contrast, residency placement for graduating DPM students in recent years is nearing 100 percent and residency only lasts for three years in comparison to other specialties that take up to eight years.
Lifestyle is an important consideration as well. Most podiatrists have a relatively normal business schedule. While some DPMs seek jobs where they are on call for hospital trauma patients, most tend to run private practices where they see patients 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Finally, I love the way that podiatric medicine treats conditions through biomechanical, physical or surgical approaches.
There is also satisfaction in taking away a patient’s pain during the first visit. Many patients come in with painful calluses or ingrown toenails that DPMs are able to fix immediately. Podiatrists also are able to surgically repair bone abnormalities and pathologies that affect patients’ lifestyles. Finally, DPMs treat chronic wounds. Saving a patient from amputation is extremely rewarding.
One day I will be Dr. Wallace. Even though DPMs have the same education, training and expertise as MDs and DOs, they are still fighting for equal recognition across the nation. Regardless of how people perceive podiatrists legally and socially, I am glad I found podiatric medicine and I cannot wait to begin helping my patients.
Blake Wallace is a DPM candidate in the Class of 2021 at the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt University (SMU). This was published in SMU’s Student Voices and is reprinted with permission.