Podiatrists are experts in the care of foot and leg injuries, disorders and illnesses. They provide support to rehabilitate patients, improve life quality and spot issues that require further treatments.
What is a podiatrist?
Podiatrists are healthcare professionals who specialise in care of the feet and legs. They work in a variety of settings, from the NHS, to residential homes and private clinics. They provide assessments, diagnosis of foot and leg conditions, and offer treatments to support patients to go about their daily lives. They are also known as chiropodists.
Your responsibilities as a podiatrist vary depending on the type of patient you treat, and the setting in which you work. Work in the NHS, for example, may look very different to private treatments focusing on aesthetic care rather than treating advanced medical conditions. Your duties could include:
- Creating patient plans for effective treatment.
- Examining patients’ feet and legs, observing any signs of disease or illness.
- If you’re running your own practice, take on business tasks such as patient bookings, accounting and keeping clear records.
- Making detailed notes of patient treatment, passing this on to other relevant medical professionals with the permission of the patient if this is necessary.
- Making use of various medical technologies from x-rays to surgical equipment for local anaesthetic procedures.
- Meeting patients and taking detailed medical histories of any conditions affecting the feet or legs.
- Providing advice and exercise plans to restore movement or improve injuries.
- Providing aesthetic treatments.
- Providing treatments to improve patient life quality.
- Recognising where further specialist medical care is required and referring patients to other medical professionals.
- Working in collaboration with other healthcare practitioners, such as GPs, hospitals or other medical teams involved in a patient’s care.
Your podiatrist salary depends on the setting where you work. In NHS podiatry jobs, your salary is dictated by the NHS Agenda for Change pay scale. You’ll usually begin as a band 5 in podiatry, earning between £27,055 - £32,394. Specialist podiatrists could rise to band 6, earning £33,706 - £44,508, while managing podiatrists of large NHS clinics could reach band 7 at £41,659 - £47.672. If you work towards becoming a specialist registrar, you could reach band 8 and beyond, earning £48,526 - £91,786. As a consultant podiatrist surgeon you could reach band 9, earning a podiatrist surgeon salary of £95,135 - £109,475.
If you choose to take on private work or work in an external clinic not run by the NHS, your salary will look different. Private podiatrists can earn between £20,000 and £50,000. If you own a single chair practice, you could earn between £50,000 and £250,000. Multi-chair practice owners reach £100,000 - £500,000 while successful multi-site podiatric company owners can earn from £150,000 to over £1,000,000.
There are a variety of routes into podiatry, though the most common one is studying for an undergraduate podiatry degree. You’ll usually need a minimum of 5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C) including English, maths and science. You’ll also need 3 A Levels or equivalent qualifications, including a biology based science. Most undergraduate podiatry degrees are 3 years long, and 4 years long in Scotland. If you already have biological sciences degrees, you may also be eligible to apply for a masters degree in podiatry, lasting two years.
Your degree course will cover all the key elements of podiatry, from anatomy to physiology to nail surgery. You’ll also undertake clinical placements each year you study, building up your practical experience while you develop your academic knowledge of the field. You’ll be eligible for an annual non repayable £6,000 grant from the NHS while you study to support you. Once you’ve completed your course, you’ll need to apply to become a member of the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) in order to practice.
Alternatively, you could study for a degree apprenticeship in podiatry. This will include work based practice and academic study, and usually offers you the opportunity to earn while you study. You’ll usually be based in NHS practice.
Training and development
The training you’ll need to practice effectively will be covered in your degree or degree apprenticeship. However, to retain membership of the HCPC, you’ll need to undertake regular continuing professional development (CPD). This can cover a range of forms, including supplementary college courses, attending conferences, shadowing a more senior member of staff or taking on set analysis of your own practice.
You could join various podiatry regulating bodies to access specialist training, research updates and conferences. The Royal College of Podiatry offers a range of training opportunities as well as resources to support auditing your CPD throughout your career, while the British Chiropody and Podiatry Association and the Institute of Chiropodists and Podiatrists also offer training and conferences.
If you choose to specialise in a particular area of podiatric medicine, such as podiatric surgery, this will require additional training.
Your skills as a podiatrist combine excellent knowledge of the feet and legs and overall practical abilities. These include:
- A calm and considerate demeanour - patients may be in pain or feel uncomfortable accessing treatment, so you’ll need to be able to put them at ease.
- A robust knowledge of the feet and legs, and accompanying biological systems that impact their function.
- Ability to be comfortable treating and caring for people’s legs and feet, in various conditions.
- Ability to keep up to date with changes to practice, such as new treatment methods or diagnoses.
- Ability to work well within a multidisciplinary team of health professionals.
- An ability to take detailed notes of patient history and treatments, keeping these up to date and useable by other members of staff.
- An understanding of key treatment plans for patients.
- Confident in working independently with patients and clients.
- Excellent verbal communication skills to ensure patients understand their treatment plans, and you’re able to share key information with colleagues.
- Excellent written communication to support taking notes for receiving or referring patients from other medical professionals.
- Good business acumen, especially if you plan to run your own practice.
Your degree studies will include clinical placements spent shadowing and observing podiatric practice. This will be vital to your own qualified work, and you’ll be expected to take detailed notes and reflections of your time in the field. It’s a good idea, though, to access some time shadowing a qualified professional before your studies, to show dedication to the role.
You could reach out to your local NHS services, such as GP surgeries and hospital clinics, to ask if you can shadow a professional podiatrist on a ward or as part of an outpatient clinic service. Alternatively, you could contact private clinics near you. Clinics could be single chair, made up of just one practitioner, multi-chair, where several podiatrists practice under one roof, or even multi-site within a chain. Multi-site practices might be beneficial to shadow in if you have access to transport, as you’ll be able to see a variety of different patients across different locations. If you have a contact this is worth using, though don’t be scared of contacting clinics speculatively.
Your career prospects as a podiatrist are excellent. If you choose to work within the NHS, you have the opportunity to build on your experience and work towards more senior bands. You could specialise in a particular area of podiatry, such as supporting patients with particular illnesses causing foot and leg issues, or patients of a certain age, such as working as a paediatric podiatrist. You could even move towards practising podiatric surgery.
Many podiatrists expand their work into private practice once they’ve built up enough experience within the NHS. You could aim towards setting up your own practice, growing it to become a multi-chair or multi-site model. This would give you freedom and flexibility as well as attracting significant salaries and developing your business abilities.
You could also aim to teach trainee podiatrists, working at universities. You could teach on degree or masters level courses with the right experience and academic ability, supporting trainees in their assignments and placements. Many podiatrists find this area of work particularly rewarding. You could move towards becoming a principal lecturer or course leader within your field.
Many podiatrists combine their work across several areas, working some hours for an NHS trust, some in a clinic, and some teaching. Your opportunities can mould to your interests and commitments.