New York State’s best podiatrists are moving to other states because of laws limiting them from working on the ankle, says an administrator from the largest and oldest podiatrist school located in Harlem.
Associate Dean of Student Services and Admissions Lisa Lee who works at New York College of Podiatric Medicine says: “New York State is losing its best trained podiatrists because it is so limited here. I’ve seen my best students leave.” Forty-four states in America allow for podiatrists to work on feet and ankles, while New York and five other states still lag behind. Lee says this is an outdated law but prevails because the orthopedics lobby is wealthier and hence has more sway with Congress.
In June, the state Senate passed a measure that will increase the scope of podiatry to ankles. The General Assembly will now vote on the issue. However, this may take some time explains podiatrist Eric Walter, who is also a member of New York Podiatric Medical Association. Walters says the association has been trying for more than six years to change this law and has seen some of his best residents leave New York during this period. “Our biggest nemesis is the orthopedic surgeons who feel like we don’t have the right training,” says Walters.
The New York State Society of Orthopaedic Surgeons has not denied this and says it will continue to oppose podiatrists wanting to work on the ankle, because the society says the podiatrists do not have adequate training. In a memorandum of opposition (PDF) to the measure, addressed to New York Legislature, the orthopedic society states that “training for orthopaedic surgeons and podiatrists are very different. Orthopaedic surgeons complete four years of medical school followed by five years of fellowship training. Podiatrists, by comparison, receive four years of graduate education followed by either a two-year or three-year residency.” This two- to three-year difference in training “is detrimental to patient care,” the letter says.
In the last 20 years, training in podiatry has become more rigorous. Residence has increased to three years from initially being a single year, so that new doctors can learn other skills, like surgery, and how to work with diabetic patients. The prevalence of diabetes, especially in poorer communities, has increased the demand for podiatrists.
Since the beginning of the recession more pre-med students have chosen podiatry as a profession. Lee says the podiatric school had a 15 percent increase in applicants over the last three years. She adds that more people are choosing podiatry over other forms of medical specializations. “Back in the early 2000s, I would say over 70 percent of our students, podiatry was a second choice after they couldn’t get into other medical programs,” she says. “But now I would say podiatry is a first choice for over 65 percent of our students.”
Third-year student Chioma Odukwe Enu, 29, worked as an administrator in the medical industry for several years before choosing podiatry. After receiving a master’s degree in molecular biology she decided to pursue a career in podiatry. She admits that in the past podiatrists were known to be the students who didn’t get into medical school, but this has changed. “You find as a trend now, kids are choosing podiatry,” she says. “Not saying I want to be in the medical field, but saying I want to be a podiatrist. It’s not so much that they didn’t get into medical school or they didn’t have the credentials to get into medical school because our credentials are pretty high, too.”
Enu says she doesn’t know if she is going to stay or leave New York after she graduates, but she implores her fellow students to get involved in the debate and make their voices known to the Legislature. She believes that if “other states like Connecticut or Washington, D.C., did it in order to increase their scope of practice so why shouldn’t New Yorkers step up?”