What’s the Difference Between an Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Specialist and a Podiatrist?

Everyone wants the best available treatment. So if you injure your foot or ankle, you want to make sure you see the right medical practitioner. An orthopedic foot and ankle specialist or a podiatrist are your two options. Understanding the differences between the two will help you make an informed treatment decision.


Difference #1: Education

An orthopedic foot and ankle specialist is a medical doctor who has:

  • Graduated at the top of their medical school class
  • Completed a five-year orthopedic residency program
  • Completed a one-year foot and ankle fellowship
  • Obtained board-certification

As you can see, an orthopedic foot and ankle specialist is trained for ten years before they are able to practice on their own. In contrast, a podiatrist completes four years of podiatry school and in some cases, a state-required two-year podiatry residency program.


Difference #2: Expertise

An orthopedic foot and ankle specialist is able to accurately diagnosis all foot and ankle conditions and injuries. Their extensive training enables them to provide the most effective nonsurgical and surgical treatment options. Their surgical skills are unprecedented. The always perform surgery using the best surgical techniques, instruments, and implants. Because of all of these reasons, an orthopedic foot and ankle specialist’s level of provided care is much higher than that of a podiatrist. 


Difference #3: Surgical Care

An orthopedic foot and ankle specialist is able to provide excellent surgical care from start to finish. A recent study reviewed a nationwide healthcare insurance database for differences between foot and ankle orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists performing ankle replacement and ankle fusion surgeries. The study found significant increase in length of hospital stay and cost in these procedures when done by podiatrists (1). This is important because as healthcare becomes more cost conscious and moves towards value-based measures these costs can dramatically increase healthcare expenditures when done by podiatrists (1).


We want you to make the right treatment decision for yourself and your injury. Knowing the difference between an orthopedic foot and ankle specialist and a podiatrist puts you in an excellent position to make an informed treatment decision. If you would like to learn more or make an appointment with an Olympia Orthopaedic Associates Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Specialist, please contact our office to speak with a patient care representative.  We have locations in West Olympia, East Olympia and Hawks Prairie so you can receive the best possible care close to home.



Jimmy J. Chan, MD, Jesse C. Chan Jashvant Poeran, MD, PhD, Nicole Zubizarreta, MPH, Madhu Mazumdar, PhD, Ettore Vulcano, MD. “Surgeon Type and Outcomes After Inpatient Ankle Arthrodesis and Total Ankle Arthroplasty.” The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery 101.2 (2019): 127-135.Print.

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