If you're keen to enhance people's independence and quality of life through helping them improve their mobility, then a career as a podiatrist could be for you

As a podiatrist 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'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'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)
  • cryotherapy
  • electrosurgery
  • ultrasonics
  • 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.

Salary

  • If you're working in the NHS, entry-level salaries range from £23,023 to £29,608 (band 5 of the NHS Agenda for Change (AfC) Pay Rates). Salaries at specialist level range from £28,050 to £36,644 (band 6), rising to £33,222 to £43,041 (band 7) for team leader and advanced podiatrist roles.
  • Salaries at consultant podiatrist or specialist registrar in podiatric surgery can range from £42,414 to £85,333 (bands 8a - d). At the very highest level, consultant podiatric surgeons can earn up to £102,506 (band 9).
  • If you work in private practice, you can typically earn around £20,000 to £50,000. However, income in private practice can be significantly more and if you own a successful private practice, you can earn well in excess of £100,000.

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.

Income data from the College of Podiatry. 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.

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'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.

Qualifications

To work as a podiatrist, you'll need to be registered with the HCPC. In order to register, you'll need to complete an approved podiatry degree, which you can find using the HCPC Register of approved education and training programmes.

Degree programmes last either three or four years and, on successful completion, you can apply for registration with the HCPC. You will then be able to practise under the protected title of podiatrist.

Courses are a combination of theory and practice and will include around 1,000 hours of clinical work with patients. 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.

Podiatry is a popular second career for people from a range of backgrounds such as:

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

However, even if you've got previous experience or qualifications in these areas you'll still need to complete the full podiatry degree.

For more information, see Careers in Podiatry.

Skills

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
  • the confidence to use your initiative
  • 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
  • a calm and understanding manner for dealing with patients' concerns
  • the ability to deal sensitively with patients who are anxious.

You'll also usually need a full driving licence.

Work experience

You'll usually need an understanding of the role of a podiatrist, gained through observation or work shadowing, to get a place on a course. Contact your local clinics or private practices to ask about opportunities.

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

Membership of the College of Podiatry Student Association (CPSA) is useful and provides access to journals, papers and news articles as well as discounted entrance to their annual conference.

Employers

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:

Specialist recruitment agencies such as Maxxima also advertise vacancies.

Professional development

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.

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

Once qualified, you can specialise in particular areas of podiatry. Postgraduate courses are available in areas such as podiatry with diabetes and the theory of podiatric surgery. Search for postgraduate courses in podiatry.

Part-time courses in areas such as business skills, marketing and financial management may be helpful if you're considering self-employment.

Career prospects

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.

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
  • nail surgery
  • rehabilitation
  • wound care
  • orthotic manufacture.

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.