Medical Doctor vs. Podiatrist (MD vs. DPM) – What’s the Difference?

Which Is the Right Kind of Des Plaines Doctor for Your Foot or Ankle Injury?

medical doctor vs podiatrist md vs dpm differenceIt’s a common question that our Des Plaines, IL, podiatrist frequently hears: If a podiatrist isn’t an MD, then why should you see one instead of going to your regular practitioner? Shouldn’t you be seen by a “real” doctor? This type of question is based on a misperception and misunderstanding of medical degrees, however.

The fact is, both MDs and DPMs are hard-working and highly trained medical doctors, but their areas of focus differ significantly. While it is true that podiatrists are not MDs, they actually hold more advanced and specialized degrees than general medical doctors when it comes to foot and ankle needs. Keep reading to learn more!

Our Des Plaines, IL, Podiatrist Explains the Difference Between Medical Doctors and Podiatrists

What Is a Medical Doctor (MD)?

To become a medical doctor (MD), a person typically spends between 11 to 14 years studying and gaining hands-on experience. This includes a 4-year college for an undergraduate degree (typically a BA or a BS), 4 years of graduate study at an accredited medical school, and then 3 to 7 years of residency training in a hospital or similar setting for hands-on supervised experience.

The graduate study and residency training will include every aspect of the human body, so a Des Plaines, IL, MD is equipped to assist with basic issues anywhere in your body. This also means, however, that your MD’s knowledge on any specific area of the body is limited to a general understanding.

When you see your MD with an issue that requires more than basic knowledge of a specific body part, therefore, they may need to refer you to specialist with more in-depth knowledge.

What Is a Podiatrist (DPM)?

A podiatrist spends the same number of years studying and gaining experience as a medical doctor: 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, and 3 to 7 years of residency training. Instead of learning about the entire human body, however, a podiatrist spends the bulk of their graduate study and residency learning everything there is to know about feet and ankles. This makes them a specialist in their field.

In addition to spending far more time studying about feet and ankles, podiatrists in Des Plaines differ from medical doctors in one other critical way: they are also surgeons. Medical doctors are not typically trained to perform surgery. That means that while they may be able to assist you with conservative treatments such as prescription medicine or ankle wraps, medical doctors cannot advise you or assist you with any type of foot or ankle surgery.

Podiatrists, on the other hand, are also surgical specialists for a wide range of needs, including surgery for bunions, hammertoes, Achilles tendon disorders, foot and ankle fractures, plantar fasciitis, arthritis, and more.

Think of it this way: if your medical doctor spent 40 hours a week studying the whole body, then only 1 or 2 of those hours were devoted to learning about feet and ankles – maybe even less! A DPM, on the other hand, spent nearly all 40 hours studying feet and ankles. That means a podiatrist in Des Plaines has better medical knowledge and more experience to fix your Achilles tendinitis, your broken foot, your bunion, or any other foot or ankle condition.

When Should You See a Des Plaines, IL, Podiatrist Instead of a Medical Doctor?

Ultimately, this is a decision you must make yourself. Consider the type of foot or ankle issue you are having. Then ask yourself these questions:

  1. Do you want a doctor with comprehensive understanding and years of experience treating your specific type of ailment (as opposed to a doctor with only basic knowledge)?
  2. Do you think you might need foot surgery or ankle surgery?
  3. Have you already seen an MD but continue to experience foot pain or ankle pain?

If you answered “yes” to any of those three questions, then you will likely benefit from visiting a podiatrist (DPM) rather than a general medical practitioner (MD).

The information provided in this article is not meant to be medical advice and is for educational purposes only. If you would like to learn more about this and other topics related to foot and ankle care, feel free to contact Weil Foot & Ankle Care, with a convenient podiatry office location near Des Plaines, IL, by clicking here or by calling 847.390.7666.

Award-Winning Chicago
Area Podiatrists
Award-Winning Chicago
Area Podiatrists


  • "I urge anyone in need of bunion surgery to see Dr Lowell Weil. My life is forever changed and I am so grateful! Oh and my feet are now PRETTY! Thank you again!"

    - Sky N.
    best chicago podiatrists
  • "Dr. Weil Jr. and the Staff at the Libertyville Office are the best. I have been with Weil foot and Ankle for nine years and Dr. Weil Jr. has taken care of all my foot problems. He is the best."

    - Maureen M.
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “Dr. Weil Jr. and the Staff at the Libertyville Office are the best. I had joint fusion surgery on July 31, 2014 and everyone there was great with all my questions. "

    - Maureen M. – Joint Fusion
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “I was super nervous about the surgery but all the staff made me feel welcome and safe, before my surgery, I remember everything was clean, and everybody were professional.”

    - Michelle K. – Toe Surgery
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “Dr. David O’Brian and his staff in Roselle are the best! My entire family has seen Dr. O’Brian for over 10 years. "

    - Mary Pat H. – Foot Pain
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “Dr. Cernak, Thank you for being such an amazing DOCTOR! The way you care for us can’t be matched by anyone! (and hasn’t!) Your knowledge is incredible too.”

    - Sara R.
    best chicago podiatrists
  • "I urge anyone in need of bunion surgery to see Dr Lowell Weil. My life is forever changed and I am so grateful! Oh and my feet are now PRETTY! Thank you again!"

    - Sky N.
    best chicago podiatrists
  • "Dr. Weil Jr. and the Staff at the Libertyville Office are the best. I have been with Weil foot and Ankle for nine years and Dr. Weil Jr. has taken care of all my foot problems. He is the best."

    - Maureen M.
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “Dr. Weil Jr. and the Staff at the Libertyville Office are the best. I had joint fusion surgery on July 31, 2014 and everyone there was great with all my questions. "

    - Maureen M. – Joint Fusion
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “I was super nervous about the surgery but all the staff made me feel welcome and safe, before my surgery, I remember everything was clean, and everybody were professional.”

    - Michelle K. – Toe Surgery
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “Dr. David O’Brian and his staff in Roselle are the best! My entire family has seen Dr. O’Brian for over 10 years. "

    - Mary Pat H. – Foot Pain
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “Dr. Cernak, Thank you for being such an amazing DOCTOR! The way you care for us can’t be matched by anyone! (and hasn’t!) Your knowledge is incredible too.”

    - Sara R.
    best chicago podiatrists
  • "I urge anyone in need of bunion surgery to see Dr Lowell Weil. My life is forever changed and I am so grateful! Oh and my feet are now PRETTY! Thank you again!"

    - Sky N.
    best chicago podiatrists
  • "Dr. Weil Jr. and the Staff at the Libertyville Office are the best. I have been with Weil foot and Ankle for nine years and Dr. Weil Jr. has taken care of all my foot problems. He is the best."

    - Maureen M.
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “Dr. Weil Jr. and the Staff at the Libertyville Office are the best. I had joint fusion surgery on July 31, 2014 and everyone there was great with all my questions. "

    - Maureen M. – Joint Fusion
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “I was super nervous about the surgery but all the staff made me feel welcome and safe, before my surgery, I remember everything was clean, and everybody were professional.”

    - Michelle K. – Toe Surgery
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “Dr. David O’Brian and his staff in Roselle are the best! My entire family has seen Dr. O’Brian for over 10 years. "

    - Mary Pat H. – Foot Pain
    best chicago podiatrists
  • “Dr. Cernak, Thank you for being such an amazing DOCTOR! The way you care for us can’t be matched by anyone! (and hasn’t!) Your knowledge is incredible too.”

    - Sara R.
    best chicago podiatrists
*The reviews listed are from actual patients of Weil Foot & Ankle Institute. Individual results may vary. Reviews are not claimed to represent results for everyone.
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The Chicago, IL, podiatrists of Weil Foot & Ankle Institute treat all medical and surgical foot and ankle conditions. Our licensed Chicago podiatrists have helped over 200,000+ patients find relief for their foot pain, heel pain and ankle pain, and we can help you too! Our Chicago podiatrists and Chicago foot doctors can help treat all foot and ankle conditions, including, bunions, claw toe, corns, calluses, foot pain, hammertoes, heel pain, ingrown toenails, neuromas, toenail fungus and sports related foot and ankle injuries.
With the most effective and state-of-the-art, quality podiatry care services in and around the Chicago, IL area, we can help you return to a pain-free life and get back to the things you love! Come experience Weil Foot & Ankle Institute, and you will see we offer the best podiatry care to patients in and around Chicago, IL, Arlington Heights, Aurora, Bannockburn, Des Plaines, Glenview, Lemont, Libertyville, Oak Park, Roselle, & Tinley Park, Illinois (IL) .
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