What Is A Podiatrist? Path To Podiatry | Care+Wear

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What is a Podiatrist? Step into the Path to Podiatry, The Best-Kept Secret in Medicine

  • 4 min read
About the author:  Alton R. Johnson Jr., DPM, CWSP is currently a Clinical Assistant Professor, Attending Physician, Podiatric Surgeon, Podiatrist, Wound Care Specialist, and Clinical Investigator at The University of Michigan School of Medicine in the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology, and Diabetes-Podiatry. He is the Founder and CEO of AJ Educational Empowerment, LLC, a company developed to empower individuals of all backgrounds through educational services to be tomorrow’s leaders. More of Dr. Johnson’s accomplishments can be found at the end of the blog.


Where My First Inspiration Sparked 

My journey into podiatric medicine and surgery was not a traditional route. If we were able to travel back in time and ask the 17-year-old version of me about podiatry, I first would ask what it was and why it involved feet. Now flash forward to the 32-year-old version of me, I couldn’t be happier. I am now working in one of the top ten Endocrinology divisions in the nation, doing what I truly love. I hope this blog will open your perspective to a field that has changed my life forever. 

I always knew that I wanted to be a physician, specifically a surgeon of some sort. My first time seeing a surgery was in 2006 when I was a high school senior at S.P. Waltrip Senior High School in Houston, Texas with a focus on Health Professions. Our A.P. Biology teacher took us to the Texas Heart Institute to see a repair of an aorta that was being performed in the teaching operating room. This inspirational moment sparked the flame for me to realize my path of medicine had to be procedural or surgical base. 

In that same year, I chose to major in Biology pre-medical studies at Barry University in Miami Shores, Florida. Although Barry University had a podiatric medical school on campus, I still did not know the full scope of podiatry. I thought the specialty was more palliative care and not invasive, so I did not even shadow a podiatrist once throughout my pre-medical training. This I believe is a flaw in my current profession because at that time podiatry did not do much outreach because there was this saying “podiatry is the best-kept secret in medicine.” 

My Step into Podiatry – Schooling and Residency 

In 2011, I completed my undergraduate studies at Barry University and decided to give a year of community service to the country by electing to serve in the Americorp/HealthCorp which I was assigned in my birthplace of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I decided to take this year to explore if I should do allopathic, osteopathic, and even physician assistant programs. During this time, I worked at a federally qualified health center that employed infectious disease physicians, dentists, and podiatrists. The podiatrist Dr. Marvin Trotter was my motivation to withdraw all my applications from other programs and enroll at Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine in Independence (Cleveland), Ohio. 

In 2012, I began podiatric medical school which consisted of a four-year track that is parallel to allopathic/osteopathic medical schools. Just as our M.D. and D.O. cohorts we take medical licensing exams at the end of our second year and during our fourth year of the curriculum and a third examination after graduation. After completing the four-year curriculum, we go on to complete either a three or four-year surgical residency. 

In 2016, I matched residency at Aventura Hospital and Medical Center in Aventura (Miami), Florida where I trained under various surgeons from podiatric surgeons to plastic surgeons to orthopedic surgeons. Here I realized I wanted a career in academic medicine. This led me to choose a fellowship that focused on academic medicine, research, and wound care at Penn Medicine-University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA. 

I began a two-year fellowship at this institution where I learned how to navigate the world of academia and clinical research. I was able to participate in both case and multi-center clinical studies, and learn how to write more technical medically-oriented pieces for clinicians or laypersons. With this momentum behind me, I knew I wanted to be a Clinical Assistant Professor that practiced podiatric medicine, podiatric surgery, wound care, clinical research, and teach trainees and medical students. I had interviews at three different institutions around the nation and chose to take my talents and skills to Michigan Medicine-University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI.

 Life After School and Beyond

Now here we are three months into my assistant professorship discussing my journey into podiatry. From not knowing what a podiatrist does, to training Family Medicine residents how to perform nail avulsions and check for postoperative infections of the foot, it’s a dream come true for me to be able to perform surgical procedures in the operating room and treat patients in outpatient settings. 

As I stated, podiatry is medicine’s “best-kept secret” but I am here to shout that secret out to the world. You can have the lifestyle of a surgeon, a busy private and wound care practice, and teaching duties, yet still have time for family and social life with podiatry. I am not just writing about it. I am living it. Do not hesitate to reach out to a local podiatrist to shadow them because it could be the dream job you never knew you wanted.

Alton Johnson’s Bio:

In 2020, Dr. Johnson bestowed the American Board of Wound Management Foundation Scholarship and was selected as the only podiatric clinical investigator in the nation for the 2020 National Institutes of Health/National Medical Association Academic Medicine Fellows Program. In 2021, Dr. Johnson completed a two-year ACFAS Podiatric Medicine and Surgery Clinical Research Fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania-Penn Presbyterian Medical Center in Philadelphia, PA. While in fellowship, Dr.fellowship Dr. Johnson became the first podiatrist to complete the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine Post-Doctoral Certificate in Clinical Research directed by the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics.

His research emphasis has been focused on health disparities, gerontology, tropical and international medicine, regenerative medicine, wound care, diabetic limb preservation techniques, rare dermatological and bone pathologies, biomedical technology, and advanced durable medical equipment technology.

You can connect with Dr. Johnson at:ajthefootdoc@gmail.com 

Dr. Johnson is an Editorial Board Member and quarterly Forum columnist forPodiatry Today.

Dr. Johnson is also a medical blogger forWound Source.




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