Pedorthists design, manufacture, fit, and modify shoes and other devices aimed at lessening pain or correcting foot problems. Pedorthists design and fit special therapeutic footwear for a patient as prescribed by a physician. This process involves making clay impressions of the patient’s feet, modifying the mold to make special footwear, choosing the correct materials, and, finally, creating the custom footwear. Pedorthists must also evaluate current and future footwear to find out if it fits properly and performs as intended. The Board for Certification in Pedorthics reports that there are more than 1,300 certified pedorthists practicing in the United States.
Pedorthist Career History
Foot disorders and problems have plagued people throughout history. However, until recently, most people were forced to seek relief from pain and discomfort at shoe stores. Because of the limited amount of knowledge concerning pedorthics in the past, most people could find little help for their problems.
Recently, though, there has been more and more information and research available about the possibilities for correcting foot problems. Shoe stores that previously employed inexperienced employees began hiring people with a pedorthic background, giving customers suffering from foot disorders the opportunity to get the kind of help and information they had been looking for all along.
Today, pedorthists are an important part of the skilled medical team that works together to find solutions to foot disorders. Pedorthists have become a great source for teaching people how to prevent foot problems and how to recognize initial symptoms.
Pedorthist Job Description
Pedorthists examine a doctor’s prescription for a patient and then design and fit therapeutic footwear to treat the problem. This involves first discussing the prescription with the patient and examining the patient’s feet. Pedorthists begin the task of further evaluation by making impressions of the patient’s feet to get the exact measurements and contours correct. Next, a plaster mold is created from the impression to be used as a model in choosing or creating the footwear or device.
If the foot problem can be corrected by using footwear that has already been created, pedorthists will make minor adjustments to this ready-made device to fit the patient’s needs. Sometimes, pedorthists must design new footwear that meets the specific needs of the patient. Usually, pedorthists will request that the specific design be made by the technicians in the lab.
After pedorthists have followed this process, they must evaluate the footwear or device to make sure it was made correctly and will function as it was intended. They try the footwear or device on the patient to make sure it fits. If the fit is not correct, changes must be made, since improperly fitting footwear may cause further damage to the patient. Often, pedorthists must oversee several trial fittings, making numerous adjustments to be sure the footwear is absolutely correct.
At this point, pedorthists must instruct the patient in how to properly use the new footwear or device. They answer questions the patient may have about the device, referring certain questions to other members of the medical team.
Pedorthists will conduct follow-up visits to track the patient’s progress and to gauge how well the footwear is working. Frequently, changes must be made after the patient has had a chance to try out the footwear on a daily basis.
Pedorthists maintain precise records of their patients’ footwear needs and problems. They must be very detailed in these records, since many adjustments are minor. Also, these final records are used to create a report for the doctors to inform them of the treatment applied.
Many pedorthists specialize in certain areas. These include adult foot deformities, amputations, arthritis, congenital deformities, diabetes, geriatrics, overuse injuries, pediatrics, sports-related injuries, and trauma. These more specialized pedorthists focus on one or two of these conditions and create comprehensive treatments, which include preventive, corrective, and accommodative measures. Pedorthists create treatments that try to prevent the condition from developing, but when it does, they then attempt to correct the disorder. Finally, they try to accommodate the condition to alleviate as much pain as possible for the patient.
Pedorthists don’t just work in the patient care segment of medicine. Some work on creating new, innovative techniques, materials, and treatments to be used in their field. They may research how to make better shoe inserts or ankle braces. Or, they may try to find the cause of certain conditions so that preventive treatment can be developed. Finally, pedorthists who are researchers use tests to improve the products and treatments being currently used.
Pedorthists may incorporate computer-based techniques when designing footwear and devices. They may use computers to create three-dimensional models instead of the traditional methods of model creation.
Some pedorthists may take their skills to places where the demand is high. For example, nursing homes tend to have a high number of residents with foot conditions that a pedorthist can treat. Also, pedorthists may conduct clinics at hospitals to heighten public awareness about foot care and possible treatments.
Pedorthists have a wide range and variety of footwear and devices to select from or modify to suit their patients’ needs. Some of these include arch supports, ankle supports, lifts, inserts, walking shoes, brace shoes, surgical boots, and custom-made shoes.
Pedorthist Career Requirements
High school students should take courses that relate to health, the human body, and movement. Courses such as anatomy, biology, physics, and health will provide you with a good basis for work in pedorthics. Also, communications courses will prepare you for dealing with a team of medical professionals and patients on a day-to-day basis. Some areas may only require a high school diploma and related experience to enter the field of pedorthics; however, most employers will require at least some college or university training.
Many jobs in the field of pedorthics require at least some college-level coursework. Appropriate fields of study include courses in medicine, engineering, biomechanics, anatomy, and physical therapy.
Certification or Licensing
The Board for Certification in Pedorthics (BCP) offers certification for people in this field. Applicants must complete a minimum of 120 hours of BCP-recognized pre-certification pedorthic courses to qualify to take BCP’s certification exam. Training doesn’t stop after you’ve earned certification. To keep your certification, you need to earn 32 continuing education points every three years as long as you’re working in the field.
Even if a beginning pedorthist does not choose to become certified, he or she should get hands-on experience as an intern in a hospital, clinic, or agency with opportunities in pedorthics. Shoe stores that sell custom-fit and therapeutic shoes are another option for practical experience.
Four states (Oklahoma, Illinois, Florida, and Ohio) require pedorthists to be licensed. Prospective pedorthists who live in one of these states, should contact their state’s department of labor to learn more about licensing requirements.
Pedorthists should have good manual dexterity. They should be good at solving problems. They should also enjoy working with people and have good communication skills.
Exploring Pedorthist Career
If you are interested in the field of pedorthics you should try to get summer jobs in medical facilities, podiatrists’ offices, shoe stores, and clinics to get a feel for what the field entails. You can also arrange to speak to a certified pedorthist or visit a hospital, clinic, or shoe store to get an idea of what the pedorthist does during a typical day. Be sure to ask a lot of questions and get a tour of the facilities that relate to pedorthics.
Pedorthists work in nursing homes, hospitals, foot and ankle clinics, podiatrists’ offices, and other medical facilities. Some pedorthists do research in labs or operate specialty shoe stores.
The most direct way to enter this field is to earn at least a two-year degree with summer internships built in. Most likely, the internships will turn into jobs or into leads to other possible job opportunities. Although certification is important, it’s not necessary to break into the field.
If a four-year degree is chosen, there is even more opportunity to gain hands-on experience through internships and summer jobs. Many college and university campuses have abundant student jobs in all areas. When choosing a college or university, be sure to select one with an on-campus hospital so you’ll have opportunities to learn in a health care setting.
The Pedorthic Footwear Association sponsors several national and regional seminars each year. These seminars focus on specialty areas within pedorthics, such as diabetes, sports-related injuries, and geriatrics. These events provide many educational opportunities for the beginning pedorthist and allow the beginner to meet and talk with experienced pedorthists.
The more skills a pedorthist gains, the easier it is to advance in the field. For example, a pedorthist who has experience in creating certain footwear and devices may be able to get a higher level position in a foot clinic that specializes in making its own footwear. Other pedorthists may become the head of research in the pedorthic area at a college, university, or laboratory.
Since there are many areas in pedorthics to specialize in, skilled pedorthists can use their experience to advise shoe companies or any business that relies on proper footwear. Some pedorthists will advance to manage therapeutic shoe stores or run a foot and ankle clinic.
Pedorthists just entering the field will usually start out making $20,000 to $28,000 a year. With certification and hands-on experience, pedorthists can make $20,000 to $70,000 a year, according to the Board for Certification in Pedorthics. BCP reports that most certified pedorthists earn between $30,000 and $50,000 a year. According to a University of Michigan report, in 2004-05 beginning pedorthists earned between $32,408 and $63,962 annually. Those with more experience earned between $35,854 and $70,792 per year. Salaries also depend on the type of facility and the location. Those working in hospitals and research labs may have a set salary that is very close to the numbers previously cited, while earnings vary at shoe stores and clinics.
Pedorthists working in shoe stores and clinics usually receive paid sick days, holidays, vacation days, and some level of insurance. Retirement savings plans are usually offered as well. Most hospitals provide insurance and other benefits, but usually don’t offer as many days off. However, some hospitals offer discounted or free medical services to their employees.
Pedorthists work in a variety of settings. Some work in hospitals and clinics, while others do research in labs or operate specialty shoe stores. Those working in labs and shoe stores usually have a set 40-hour week. Pedorthists in hospitals and clinics may be called on to work evening hours to meet the needs of patients.
Still other pedorthists may make home visits to people who are unable to come in to the clinic or hospital. Nursing homes are a prime example.
All of these settings are generally pleasant, although the research lab setting differs greatly from the specialty store setting. All require the pedorthist to work with many other people on a day-to-day basis. Because of this, the pedorthist’s day is filled with activity that includes consulting with other medical personnel and talking to patients. Pedorthists may spend some time taking notes and keeping records, but this is definitely not a desk job.
In order to work with patients, the pedorthist may be kneeling, sitting, or standing several times every day. If pedorthists are designing and creating footwear, they will work with special tools and materials.
Pedorthist Career Outlook
Jobs are abundant for pedorthists for many reasons. Two of the main reasons for the high demand for pedorthists are the popularity of sports and fitness and the fact that as the population ages, people tend to have foot problems.
The sports and fitness boom shows no signs of declining. Many people involved in different sports activities will need special braces, inserts, and devices to maintain a high level of activity. Also, sports-related injuries are increasingly common, so skilled pedorthists able to treat such injuries will be in high demand.
Advancing age brings many chronic conditions such as arthritis and bone disease that require the help of a pedorthist. Many of these people will require special equipment and advice from the pedorthist. The growing elderly population has created a great need for pedorthists. As a result of these factors, the future of pedorthics is stable and ever-growing.
For More Information:
- American Board for Certification in Orthotics Prosthetics and Pedorthics
- Pedorthic Footwear Association