Podiatrists specialise in the diagnosis and treatment of problems with the feet and legs
As a podiatrist you'll enhance people's independence and quality of life through helping them improve their mobility. You'll provide preventative care, diagnosis and treatment of a range of problems affecting the feet, ankles and lower legs. This can include infections, defects and injuries, as well as foot and nail conditions related to other major health disorders such as diabetes.
You could be based in a hospital, GP surgery or within private practice and may work with a team of people including nurses, physiotherapists and doctors.
Podiatrists are also known as chiropodists and both are protected titles. If you want to practise under either title you need to complete an approved undergraduate or postgraduate (pre-registration) degree programme and register with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).
You'll work with a variety of patients and may provide non-prescription medication for minor conditions. For more serious conditions, you may access and supply:
- prescription medications
- orthotics (splints and braces)
- specialised dressings
- exercise therapies.
As a podiatrist, you'll need to:
- assess, diagnose, treat and evaluate abnormalities and diseases related to the foot and lower limb in people of all ages
- provide treatment for high-risk patient groups such as the elderly and those with increased risk of amputation
- give advice and make referrals to other healthcare and social services professionals as appropriate
- use therapeutic and surgical techniques to treat foot and lower leg issues (e.g. carrying out nail and soft tissue surgery using local anaesthetic)
- prescribe, produce and fit orthotics and other aids and appliances
- deliver foot health education
- understand the mechanics of the body in order to preserve, restore and develop movement
- work with people in sports to address sports-related injuries to legs and feet
- use a range of equipment including surgical instruments, dressings, treatment tables, orthotic (inner sole) materials, lasers, grinders, shaping equipment, x-ray and video gait-analysis equipment (which allows for analysis of patients' walking or running problems)
- undertake a range of administrative tasks such as ensuring stock levels are maintained and securely stored, and that equipment is kept in good working order.
- If you're working in the NHS, entry-level salaries range from £25,655 to £31,534 (band 5 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates). Salaries at specialist level range from £32,306 to £39,027 (band 6), rising to £40,057 to £45,839 (band 7) for team leader and advanced podiatrist roles.
- Salaries at consultant podiatrist or specialist registrar in podiatric surgery level can range from £47,126 to £90,387 (bands 8a to d). At the very highest level, consultant podiatric surgeons can earn up to £108,075 (band 9).
- If you work in a private practice, you can typically earn around £20,000 to £50,000. However, income in private practice can be significantly more if you own a successful single chair private practice (£50,000 to £250,000) or multi-chair private practice (£100,000 to £500,000). Experienced owners of a successful multi-site private practice can earn around £150,000 to £1,000 000.
Your income can also be affected by your experience, geographical location, the type of podiatry you practise, the type of treatment provided, reputation and hours worked.
Working hours in the NHS are typically 37.5 per week. If you're based in private practice you may work more flexibly and might have to do some evenings and weekends for the convenience of patients.
You can choose to combine freelance work with part-time NHS work. This may include working for an existing private podiatry clinic, working in a GP surgery, making home visits or doing locum work.
What to expect
- Work is on a one-to-one basis. Patients come from all age groups and backgrounds. They may often be children or the elderly. You may be part of a multidisciplinary team that can include GPs, nurses, dietitians and physiotherapists in a range of settings such as hospitals, community clinics and patients' homes.
- You'll need to feel comfortable working in what can sometimes be unpleasant working conditions, that include exposure to bodily fluids such as blood, pus and urine.
- Self-employment is a popular option once you've built up some experience. To support yourself fully, you may have two or more jobs, e.g. teaching, self-employment and work in the NHS.
- Renting a treatment room in premises is common, either in a mainstream or alternative medical practice, sports injuries centre, retail outlet, or, less commonly, a hairdressing or beauty salon. Retail franchise opportunities are also a possibility.
- You'll need to travel locally to clinics, surgeries and patients' homes. The podiatrist qualification is widely recognised in Europe and beyond, giving you the chance to work overseas.
To work as a podiatrist, you must be registered with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC). In order to register you'll need to complete an HCPC-approved undergraduate or postgraduate (pre-registration) podiatry degree.
Undergraduate degree programmes usually last three years (four in Scotland). You'll typically need three A-levels or equivalent qualifications, including a biological science, as well as five GCSEs (minimum grade 4/C), including English language, maths and science.
If you already have a degree in a healthcare or science-related subject such as biology, physiotherapy, occupational therapy or sports science, you could apply for an HCPC-approved pre-registration Masters degree. Entry requirements vary between courses, so contact course providers for details.
Courses are a combination of theory and practice and will include around 1,000 hours of clinical work with patients.
It's also possible to take a degree apprenticeship in podiatry. Degree apprenticeships are currently available from the University of Brighton, the University of Huddersfield and the University of Plymouth.
You'll usually be required to have an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check - Protecting Vulnerable Groups (PVG) membership scheme in Scotland - and occupational health clearance.
For a list of HCPC-approved courses, search the HCPC Register of approved education and training programmes.
On successful completion of an approved programme, you can apply for registration with the HCPC. You will then be able to practise under the protected title of podiatrist.
Entry without a degree is only possible at podiatry assistant level, working under the supervision of a registered podiatrist. It may be possible with experience to train to become a podiatrist on one of the HCPC-approved courses.
All pre-registration podiatry students can receive funding support of at least £5,000 per year. There is up to £3,000 further funding available for eligible students. You don't have to pay it back and are still able to access funding for tuition and maintenance loans from the Student Loans Company. For more information, see the Royal College of Podiatry Funding.
You'll need to have:
- an understanding and knowledge of science, particularly biology, anatomy and chemistry
- excellent communication skills, both verbal and in writing, including the ability to explain medical terminology and treatment in easy to understand language
- practical skills, including manual dexterity, to carry out treatment
- the ability to work independently and as part of a team with other healthcare professionals such as doctors and nurses
- listening skills and a calm and understanding manner for dealing with patients' concerns
- the ability to deal sensitively with patients who are anxious
- the confidence to use your initiative
- problem-solving and reasoning skills with the ability to use your own judgement
- excellent time management and organisational skills to be able to cope with a busy and varied workload
- an innovative, flexible and motivated approach to work
- good IT skills
- business skills if working in private practice.
You'll also usually need a full driving licence for travel between appointments.
You'll usually need an understanding of the role of a podiatrist to get a place on a course. You can gain this through work shadowing a registered podiatrist to find out more about the job first-hand. Contact your local clinics or private practices to ask about opportunities. You could use The College of Podiatry's Find a Podiatrist to look for podiatrists in your area.
Experience of working in a health-related or caring role is also helpful as are roles that bring you into contact with people.
Student podiatrists can become members of The College of Podiatry Student Association (CPSA). Membership provides access to journals, papers and news articles as well as discounted entrance to their annual conference.
Find out more about the different kinds of work experience and internships that are available.
You're likely to gain your first position and initial experience in the NHS working in a hospital department or clinic, health centre or GP surgery. Outside of the NHS, expansion of the private sector means that you could also work within:
- high street podiatry services
- complementary therapy clinics
- sports clubs
- private clinics
- nursing homes
- occupational health centres.
With experience, you may decide to set up your own private practice. It's also possible to go into research or teaching where you could be employed by universities, hospitals and clinics.
Look for job vacancies at:
- Jobs.hscni.net - health and social care jobs in Northern Ireland.
- Jobs.ac.uk - for research and lecturing jobs.
- NHS Jobs - for vacancies in England and Wales.
- NHS Scotland Recruitment
Specialist recruitment agencies such as Maxxima also advertise vacancies.
A requirement of maintaining your registration with the HCPC is to carry out continuing professional development (CPD) over a two-year period. You'll need to prove you have kept your skills and knowledge up to date and will have to accurately record any CPD activities that you carry out.
Membership of relevant professional bodies provides access to a range of CPD opportunities. These can include regional and national training events, courses, seminars and conferences where you can network and share ideas with other podiatrists. They also provide other services including insurance and member welfare. Relevant bodies include:
- The British Chiropody and Podiatry Association (BCPA)
- The College of Podiatry
- The Institute of Chiropodists and Podiatrists
With experience and further HCPC-approved training at Masters level, it's possible to register with the HCPC as a podiatrist practising podiatric surgery. For a list of courses see the HCPC list of approved programmes.
Part-time courses in areas such as business skills, marketing and financial management may be helpful if you're considering self-employment.
Within the NHS, there is a structured career path. With experience and further training you can progress through the grades:
- entry level podiatrist (band 5)
- specialist (band 6)
- team leader or advanced podiatrist (band 7)
- specialist registrar in podiatric surgery (band 8a - d)
- consultant podiatric surgeon (band 9).
Although podiatrists usually begin their career in general clinics, you may decide to specialise in a particular area of podiatry. For example, you could focus on high-risk patient management working with patients who have an underlying illness or condition that puts their lower limbs at risk of infection or disability. This may include working in rheumatology, dermatology or diabetes.
With experience and further training you could also choose to specialise in areas such as:
- biomechanics - perhaps focusing on sports injuries or child foot healthcare
- forensic podiatry - giving presentations on research findings
- nail surgery
- orthotic manufacture
- podiatric surgery
- wound care.
With further qualifications, it's possible to pursue academic research in a university, hospital or specialist institution.
Another option for experienced podiatrists is to set up your own private practice. While this can be expensive in terms of equipment and insurance, it offers the prospect of flexible employment and large financial rewards if you're successful. You could look into opportunities to rent a room in a clinic or on a fee-share basis with other practitioners.