Orthopedic Specialists vs. Podiatric Surgeons

Many people with foot and ankle injuries find themselves asking, “Should I choose an orthopedic specialist or a podiatric surgeon?”. We’d like to help clarify the difference so that you can be well-informed before making your decision to choose a foot and ankle specialist.

In the United States, foot and ankle surgical care is typically performed by two types of physicians – the Doctor of Podiatric Medicine [DPMs] and the Orthopedic Surgeon [MD or DO].

Podiatric Foot and Ankle Surgeons – Board Certification

The American Board of Podiatric Surgery (ABPS) certifies podiatric Foot and Ankle Surgeons in Foot and Ankle Surgery, Foot Surgery, and Reconstructive Rearfoot/Ankle Surgery. Podiatric Foot and Ankle Surgeons are specifically trained to diagnose and treat the ankle and foot.

These Board-certified Podiatric Foot and Ankle Surgeons treat the majority of foot and ankle conditions in the Untied States. Orthopedic specialists follow as the next largest provider of treatment for foot and ankle conditions.

How does Education and Training Differ?

The ABPS Board Certified Podiatric Foot and Ankle Surgeon has completed the same length of Podiatric Medical School (4 years) as the MD and DO Medical Schools. The Podiatric Medical curriculum covers similar clinical sciences as that of the Allopathic and Osteopathic medical Schools.

The main difference: The Podiatric Medical Schools also include intensive specialty foot and ankle education from the very start of the first four years – Allopathic (MD) and Osteopathic (DO) medical schools do not provide the same intensive foot and ankle education.

The ABPS Board Certified Podiatric Foot and Ankle Surgeon has also completed Post-Graduate Podiatric Medicine and Surgical Residencies and many times are  incorporated with MD and DO residency. Both Podiatric Surgical Residency and Orthopedic Residency include training in general surgery and medicine, plastic surgery, vascular surgery, orthopedic surgery and pharmacology.

Fellowship Training vs. Advanced Training

Several surveys of orthopedic specialists, have shown that the graduating orthopedic surgeon feels their orthopedic program was deficient in foot and ankle training. For this reason, many orthopedic specialists choose to complete a fellowship of typically one year prior to entering private practice.

The main difference: between the fellowship training of orthopedic specialists and the advanced training of Podiatric Foot and Ankle Surgeons is the amount of time spent in specific foot and ankle training and the sheer volume of foot and ankle cases – even the busiest orthopedic fellowship programs only provide 350-500 foot and ankle specific surgical procedures.

Dr. Black’s training as a board-certified Podiatric Foot and Ankle Surgeon has provided him with over 1,200 foot and ankle specific surgical procedures. Dr. Black’s training has also allowed him the opportunity to work alongside some of the country’s foremost orthopedic fellows.

While the orthopedic specialists’ fellowship training is typically one year, Dr. Black’s training included a three-year vigorous surgical training experience focused on Foot and Ankle surgical procedures for the entire three years.

There were two residents selected per year allowing a high volume of surgeries to be shared amongst only six surgeons in training.  He has trained with both orthopedic and podiatric surgeons.  This included highly specialized training at the Sigvard T. Hansen MD Foot and Ankle Institute at Harborview Medical Center, University of Washington, Seattle WA and Foot and Ankle Traumatology at Kaiser Permanente Memorial Hospital, San Francisco, CA.

In addition to this, he has completed advanced training in Ilizarov External Fixation of the Foot and Ankle at the Russian Ilizarov Scientific Center for Restorative Traumatology and Orthopedics in Kurgan, Russia and has experience with all four Total Ankle Joint Replacement prostheses available on the US market. Dr. Black has completed over 1,200 surgical procedures on the foot and ankle during his educational process and has trained alongside other orthopedic fellows.

“The highly-advanced training of the board-certified podiatric foot and ankle surgeon is the reason that the Orthopedic Associates of Cape Coral have chosen Dr. Michael R. Black to head the Florida Center for Foot and Ankle Reconstruction. We feel that it is in the best interest of our patients to provide them with unsurpassed foot and ankle care from a Podiatric Foot and Ankle Surgeon like Dr. Black.”

A Special Note from Dr. Black:

Both Podiatric Foot and Ankle Surgeons and orthopedic surgeons can be competent and well-trained to perform your foot and ankle surgery.

When choosing a foot and ankle surgeon, it’s important that the decision be based on the number of cases that the surgeon has performed and been exposed to, as well as, being the right fit for you in terms of patient-doctor interaction.

Also, you should be encouraged to get a second and third opinion.  The best surgeons are very comfortable with this and believe in complete transparency between the patient and other surgeons.

Consultations should be based on sound, objective principles of foot and ankle surgery and not on subjective opinions or bias.  Often times, the second opinion varies based on the surgeon’s preferences which is largely based on the region where the surgeon received his or her training.  However, the principles of the recommended surgical procedure and the desired result are often very similar.

I look forward to the opportunity to meet with you to discuss your foot and ankle needs and how I may be of assistance in treating you with the very best care!

~ Dr. Michael R. Black, DPM, AACFAS

We hope the above information about the difference in orthopedics and podiatric foot and ankle surgeons has been informative. If you’d like a more in-depth explanation on the difference between podiatric foot and ankle surgeons and orthopedic specialists, you may find a wealth of information at the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgery, ACFAS.org.