Difference Between Orthopedic Surgeon & Podiatrist

There are a wide range of specializations that medical doctors can consider pursuing. This article explores the work that orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists do, and the types of medical conditions that these specialists treat.

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Comparing Orthopedic Surgeons to Podiatrists

Orthopedic surgeons specialize in the care of patients with musculoskeletal issues and are qualified to treat patients with surgery. Podiatrists are experts in treating people's feet.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary Job Outlook (2014-2024)*
Orthopedic Surgeons Medical Degree $359,800 (2017)** 20% (for surgeons)
Podiatrists Medical Degree $124,830 (2016)* 14%

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **PayScale

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Responsibilities of Orthopedic Surgeons vs. Podiatrists

Although the medical issues that orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists focus on are different, they perform many of the same types of tasks in their regular work. They meet with patients to talk about their health concerns and use test results to help diagnose patients. They are responsible for maintaining confidentiality on behalf of their patients, and ensuring that their files are updated. Both orthopedic surgeons and podiatrists may also operate on patients or prescribe other treatments for their condition. They may also refer patients to other specialists if necessary.

Orthopedic Surgeons

Orthopedic surgeons are required to have a medical degree, license and certification. They must also complete practical training requirements, such as a fellowship or residency. They are specifically trained to care for patients with problems with their musculoskeletal system, and this may include spinal problems, diseases that affect the bones or joints, or injuries like bone fractures. It's common for these professionals to work in a hospital or medical clinic. As surgeons, they need good fine motor skills so that they can be precise when repairing damage during surgical procedures.

Job responsibilities of an orthopedic surgeon include:

  • Reading patient files
  • Assessing patients
  • Ordering medical tests
  • Identifying the patient's condition
  • Reviewing treatment options
  • Performing surgical procedures


Podiatrists are medical doctors who devote their career to working with patients who have foot problems. As medical doctors, podiatrists must have a medical degree and a license to practice medicine. They may also be required to complete an internship or residency in podiatry, and certification is recommended. Podiatrists may work in medical offices, clinics or hospitals, and their work schedules will depend on where they're employed.

Job responsibilities of a podiatrist include:

  • Seeing patients and reviewing their condition
  • Sending patients for medical tests
  • Explaining treatment options to patients
  • Teaching patients how to care for their feet
  • Prescribing braces or medicine
  • Referring patients to other specialists if necessary

Related Careers

Since orthopedic surgeons are qualified to operate on patients, those interested in this occupation may also want to consider being an anesthesiologist, since they provide medical care to patients during surgeries. Aspiring podiatrists may also be interested in becoming a physical therapist, since physical therapists treat people with mobility issues, which may also involve working with people who've experienced foot injuries.

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