A Podiatrist with extended qualifications

There are less than 5% of podiatrists practising podiatric surgery in the UK, yet this speciality has grown since 1974 when the first organisations came into being.

A podiatric surgeon in the UK is a podiatrist who holds qualifications to operate on a human foot and associated structures. All UK podiatrists are regulated through the HCPC, and since 2022, the register annotates this speciality alongside the main podiatry profession. 

The author – a former Dean of the Faculty of Podiatric Surgery (Royal College of Podiatry)

The other main group of foot surgeons are affiliated with the British Orthopaedic Association (BOA)  and the Royal College of Surgeons and Institute of Podiatrists. Unlike podiatric surgeons (PS), orthopaedic surgeons (OS) go through medical school training to become doctors and then train in their chosen field. OS also specialise in trauma and forms part of the first line of accident and emergency service.

Most podiatric surgeons practice in England, although NHS services offer this speciality elsewhere in the United Kingdom. Services continue to develop, but the coverage in the UK is not uniform.


Designation and Distinction with Medicine

Podiatric surgeons are not medically qualified doctors, but they all have medical training and are approved to work with other medical specialities in designated locations. In some centres, the NHS and Independent Sector podiatric surgeons work closely with orthopaedic surgeons. Many centres are listed through internet sites offering information about their local services.

Podiatric surgeons with a doctor of philosophy – PhD, may use Dr before their name, but otherwise, Mr is usually preferred. This leads to confusion in the UK as all medically trained doctors practising surgery use ‘mister. Elsewhere throughout the world, surgeons use Doctors.

The public should always check the credentials of all people offering surgical treatment using the HCPC or GMC website registers.

How long does it take to become a podiatric surgeon?

Podiatry is a three-year undergraduate course (BSc in Podiatry), but most entrants will be 23 or older when embarking on podiatric surgery. The postgraduate student will undertake a master’s degree (3 years) and work with a trainer, usually at the consultant level, in Podiatric surgery to gain experience with their designated tutor. The next journey can take at least 3, but usually 5 years. Upon completion and gaining a Fellowship, usually from the Royal College of Podiatry, the podiatric surgeon will undertake three years as a registrar, gaining their completion certificate. Thereafter, entry to consultant is available subject to availability.

Currently, a school leaver might expect to take 11-13 years to become a consultant podiatric surgeon, and to become an orthopaedic surgeon (trauma) can take 18 years. These figures provide only a guide. It is always important to check with the various institutions.

However, the active pursuit of surgical practice will start earlier under trainee-level supervision, leading to registrar levels where more independent practice and activity are usual. 

Working as a team (2017), and no, this was not a picture produced to be politically correct!

What does a podiatric surgeon do?

All podiatric surgeons operate on bone, joints and soft tissue and provide a service that corrects deformity, stabilises or restores joints with reduced pain to allow the foot to function better. Managing pain, preserving tissue and mobility is the key aim. The role of the podiatric surgeon has been developing over 45 years and provides an important contribution to health care of the foot and ankle associated with some lower limb problems.

Official site (RCP) definition

“This is the branch of podiatry that is involved in the complex management of the foot and ankle involving surgery under both local and general anaesthetic. Having undergone undergraduate training and then a comprehensive postgraduate course in both academic and hands on practical training a podiatric surgeon will then work with treating things like bunions, hammer toes, neuromas, infections, osteoarthritis, ankle problems etc. Access to the full variety of imaging techniques is a fundamental part of their assessment and diagnosis. This along with the support of the multi-disciplinary team demonstrates who a podiatric surgeon is part of the wider health” (Accessed 20th May 2022)

Podiatric surgeons utilise the same services as any medical surgeon from imaging to pathology. 

Elective surgery, dealing with old injuries, medical conditions of the foot and some congenital conditions form the main workload of the podiatric surgeon. Routine nail surgery is covered by podiatrists.

This speciality is desperately needed to support traditional medicine but is not as yet integrated into trauma medicine. The NHS has to modify its needs and services so that podiatric surgery will grow in time and have greater liaison with orthopaedic services. Some podiatric surgical services work within the orthopaedic directorates in mainstream hospitals.

A career in podiatric surgery is exciting and challenging. A Consultant podiatric surgeon (FRCPodS) provides a 3-minute introductory (video) insight into this specialism for the Royal College of Podiatry.

Independent Hospitals

Podiatric surgeons also practice in some independent hospitals within the UK. Those who can offer a service will be listed under their hospital website. 

Please be aware that websites more frequently refer to American (USA) podiatrists and the information will differ to that of the UK as it will for Australia.

Thank you for reading “What is a Podiatric Surgeon?” by David R. Tollafield

 Updated (20th May 2022)
Linked information is accurate at the time of publishing. The views in this article are those of the author alone and do not represent any official opinion. 

Read more about podiatric surgery and how it started from the same author in Podiatrist on A Mission.The only UK book that charts the early years in this field. Available from Amazon books

Other useful references

David Tollafield is a retired podiatric surgeon (FRCPodS, MSc, BSc, DPodM, FRCPM) and no longer practices surgery but remains a registered podiatrist with the HCPC until 2024. You can read more about foot health atAbouton my website.

Published by Busypencilcase Communications Est. 2015 for ConsultingFootPain

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