I was recently asked this question by a new patient in my podiatry practice. She came in with a particular foot issue, but when we determined that surgery might be her best treatment option, she asked for a referral to an orthopedic surgeon for a chronic problem with her navicular (the same bone that Yao Ming and Tom Brady have both injured in the past.) In her mind, the orthopedist would be better qualified to address her issue.
I responded to her request with the name of an orthopedic surgeon who I think highly of. I also gave her the name of a colleague of mine, another Podiatrist in Houston, TX, who I feel is best qualified to do the surgery she is asking about. While I do surgery myself, I do not typically operate on traumatic injuries. Even with my recommendation, the patient was hesitant to accept the suggestion of the podiatrist--at least, that is, until I told her that if I or a family member needed this type of surgery, I would not want anyone else operating but him.
Podiatrists are Surgeons by Design
The training of a podiatrist is extensive. After four years of college, a podiatrist continues on for four years of podiatric medical school. Most schools are affiliated with major universities and medical centers, such as Temple University where I attended. After graduation, the podiatrist continues to a hospital-based residency program which is now a minimum of 3 years of training in surgery and medicine. The podiatrist then has to meet additional qualifications to become board certified.
While it's true that some podiatrists choose to limit their practices, all are qualified to treat all disorders of the foot and ankle. I choose to limit my surgery to more elective forefoot procedures, such as correction of bunions, hammertoes, and neuromas, because of the type of practice I choose to have. Part of the reason I limit my surgical procedures is this: at Tanglewood Foot Specialists, we truly believe that foot surgery is meant to be a last resort. We will always consider non–surgical solutions first. We will explore every treatment option to find the right solution for you.
Any surgery can cause worry, which is why we will take as much time with you as you feel you need to answer your questions. That way, you will know exactly what our plan will be--and why we feel that plan is your best treatment option. We will work together to address any concerns and will have a clear postoperative course mapped out. Nobody likes surprises and you'll find that your surgical experience will go exactly as you were told it would be.
And if surgery is your only option, but I plan to refer you elsewhere? I still believe that podiatrists are the best trained in matters of the foot and ankle and would have one of my fellow podiatrists operate on me over an orthopedic surgeon any day.
I gave my patient the choice between two excellent surgeons. The choice is hers...the best I can do is offer my opinion as to what the best choice would be. If you're faced with a similar choice, be sure not to limit your options.