President's Perspective November 2018
The "P" Word
John S. Steinberg, DPM, FACFAS
you just sat down in your airplane seat or perhaps you just arrived at a
holiday party for your spouse’s work…and IT HAPPENS. Someone asks what
you do for a living, and now you have to decide what the answer will be
this time. Podiatrist, foot and ankle surgeon, doctor, surgeon, foot
doctor, physician, podiatric surgeon?
Everyone certainly has an
opinion on this one, and since I have this great perspective space, I
will use this opportunity to share with you my take on the “P” word:
Our great profession has an identity crisis, and it
is debated regularly. We have evolved over many decades into a medical
and surgical subspecialty practiced in offices, hospitals and clinics
throughout the United States. We are all Doctors of Podiatric Medicine
as clearly defined by our degree, and the DPM after your name will
follow you down every hallway and into every room. However, words really
do matter, and the context in which you frame this degree makes a big
impact. The way you present and carry yourself will weigh heavily on how
you are viewed, treated and privileged.
If you think this
conversation is untimely or inconsequential, consider the following: the
American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery (ABFAS) felt it mattered
enough to change its name from the American Board of Podiatric Surgery
(ABPS). Many state societies have removed the “P” word from their
association name completely. These were not reactionary moves or
overcompensation; they were well calculated and planned identity
changes. I suggest we need more.
Personally, I would like to
see us retire the word “podiatry.” I believe it is associated with our
early history rather than the present-day medical and surgical
subspecialty we practice.
So, what are our options? The two
clear choices are foot and ankle surgeon vs. podiatric surgeon. In my
hospital environment, I have found that the label of podiatric surgery
is best as a service name and an identity that everyone can grasp. At my
two practice locations in Washington, DC, we have removed the word
podiatry completely. Our division name is podiatric surgery, our lab
coats, business cards, signage and websites have all been rebranded to
the term podiatric surgery.
The majority of ACFAS members now
identify themselves and their practices as foot and ankle surgeons,
according to our recent member survey. While this can cause some
confusion with our MD/DO orthopaedic colleagues, it is indeed a very
accurate description of what services we offer to the public. Many of
you have changed your practice names and department names to reflect
this evolution. The choice on best branding is one that you must make
depending on your practice setting and local market influences.
all this “name stuff” worth the effort and expense? You bet! I can say
from experience that the name change helps to secure the recognition of
what is truly an evolved specialty. And it allows us to match up
appropriately with our surgical colleagues: vascular surgery, general
surgery, plastic surgery, orthopaedic surgery, podiatric surgery, foot
and ankle surgery. Wouldn’t podiatry alone look odd on this list?
when I get asked on an airplane what I do for a living, my answer is,
“I am a foot and ankle surgeon.” Inevitably, the conversation will
progress, and I will educate them on my training as a DPM and what that
means. However, in the hospital environment where there are both
orthopaedic surgeons and podiatric surgeons, I believe the term foot and
ankle surgeon can be confusing. But, you have to evaluate what is best
for your practice, hospital, department name, etc.
all make your head spin? Probably, but it’s just part of our reality. We
are different, and we should be proud to display that difference while
at the same time improving hat it means to be a DPM. Give it some
thought, and if appropriate, make some changes to your professional
Questions, thoughts, comments? Your ACFAS Board wants to hear about it. Please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org.