As well as having an approved podiatry degree, you need a caring manner and good communication and practical skills to work as a podiatrist

Podiatrists 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'll also give advice to patients on improving mobility, independence and their quality of life. 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 degree programme and register with the Health & Care Professions Council (HCPC).

Responsibilities

You will 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;
  • cryotherapy;
  • electrosurgery;
  • ultrasonics;
  • specialised dressings;
  • exercise therapies.

As a podiatrist, you'll need to:

  • assess, diagnose and treat 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 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).

Salary

  • Within the NHS, pay structures are in place as part of the Agenda for Change pay rates. Podiatrists typically start on band 5 of this scale with salaries ranging from £21,909 to £28,462.
  • You may progress to a specialist lead podiatrist role where salaries are in the region of £31,383 to £41,373 (band 7). Higher salaried jobs and consultancy opportunities exist with experience and specialisation.

If you work in private practice, you may earn considerably more. Income is affected by geographical location, type of podiatry practised, type of treatment and hours worked.

Income data from Health Careers. Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

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. Career breaks are possible.

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.
  • Self-employment is a popular option after some post-registration clinical experience. Self-employment brings different pressures and lifestyle implications.
  • Renting a treatment room in appropriate 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.
  • It is likely you'll need to wear a uniform, such as a tunic and trousers.
  • Travel within a working day to different clinics, surgeries and patients' homes is frequent, so it's useful and often essential for you to have a driving licence.
  • The podiatrist qualification is widely recognised in Europe and beyond, giving you the chance to work overseas.

Qualifications

To work as a podiatrist, you need to complete a podiatry degree that is approved by the HCPC.

Degree programmes last either three or four years and once you've successfully completed one, you can apply for registration with the HCPC. You will then be able to practice under the protected title of podiatrist.

There are currently 13 UK institutions offering approved degrees and details of these can be found at Schools of Podiatry. You will usually be required to have an enhanced Disclosure and Barring Service check and occupational health clearance.

Podiatry is a popular second career for people of varying ages and relevant backgrounds include:

  • biology;
  • nursing;
  • physical education;
  • physiology;
  • physiotherapy;
  • sports sciences.

Even if you have previous experience or qualifications in these areas you'll still need to complete the full podiatry degree.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • a desire to work with people;
  • good listening and communication skills, including being able to explain medical terminology and treatment in simple but appropriate detail;
  • a calm and understanding manner for dealing with patients' concerns;
  • practical skills including manual dexterity to carry out treatment;
  • an understanding and knowledge of science, particularly biology, anatomy and chemistry;
  • a caring and sympathetic nature.

Work experience

An understanding of the role of a podiatrist, gained through observation or work shadowing, is usually required. Contact your local clinics or private practices to ask about opportunities.

You may also want to consider getting student membership with the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists. This will provide access to journals, papers and news articles as well as discounted entrance to the annual conference.

Experience of working in a health-related or caring role is also helpful as are roles that bring you into contact with people.

Employers

It is likely that you will gain your first position and initial experience in the NHS. Fluctuating financial constraints on the NHS may affect the opportunities that are available.

Outside of the NHS, expansion of the private sector means that you could 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 but you should first look into the considerations of being self-employed. 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:

Specialist recruitment agencies may also list vacancies:

Professional development

A requirement of registering 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.

The main provider of CPD and education is the College of Podiatry, which is part of the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists. It runs study programmes and regional and national training events. You can also become a member of the Society, which allows you to network with other podiatrists and gain access to journals and articles.

Once qualified, you can specialise in certain areas or you can choose to take postgraduate qualifications. Courses are available in specialist subjects as such forensic podiatry, podiatric surgery, independent prescribing and clinical biomechanics. Search for postgraduate courses in podiatry.

Part-time courses in business skills may be helpful if you're considering self-employment. Topics include:

  • financial management;
  • marketing;
  • time management;
  • organisational skills;
  • research;
  • networking.

Career prospects

After gaining experience, you may decide to focus on high-risk patient management to work with people 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.

You could also choose to specialise in areas such as:

  • biomechanics - perhaps focusing on sports injuries or child foot healthcare;
  • podiatric surgery - managing bone, joint and soft tissue disorders in the foot;
  • forensic podiatry - giving presentations on research findings.

It's possible to pursue academic research in a university, hospital or specialist institution. A Masters or PhD qualification may be required for teaching in a university.

Another option with significant experience 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. You could look into opportunities to rent a room in a clinic or on a fee-share basis with other practitioners.

To support yourself fully, you may have two or more jobs at the same time, e.g. teaching, self-employment and work in the NHS.