The focus of undergraduate clinical training has traditionally been on skills acquisition. Whilst clinical competency and safe practices are important for patient care, the wellness of the practitioner is often overlooked in undergraduate training.
In 2020, the Podiatry Association (Singapore) investigated the self-reported prevalence of occupational injuries among podiatrists who trained in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom and reported the following:
- 72.7% developed back, neck, hand and wrist injuries attributing to poor work posture and ergonomics
- 18.1% reported mental health challenges attributed to high patient load and lack of support in the workplace.
Could undergraduate clinical training be fine-tuned to better prepare students for these challenges? When reflecting on the study results, the following three points could be implemented.
1. Emphasise ergonomics and occupational safety
This point particularly refers to the use of our upper limbs. Given podiatrists treat lower limb conditions with our upper limbs, a student in training may develop poor postural and upper limb movement habits. To promote occupational wellness and safety in practice, clinical training could include upper limb mechanics and injury prevention strategies.
2. Authentic clinical training
Clinical training has traditionally been authentic in the sense that students have internships in a clinical environment managing ‘real’ patients. However, the time allocated for students to manage patients is usually quite long (between 60 to 120 minutes). Towards the end of their fourth year, perhaps students should be expected to work within 30 to 40 minutes per patient. This may better prepare them to cope with the time pressures in the work environment.
3. Mentorship support
As part of students’ fourth year placement, clinical co-ordinators could offer to match them with professionals who will mentor and support them post-graduation, allowing for a seamless mentor-mentee relationship from being a student through to their role as a working professional.
These are just some examples to demonstrate how a podiatrist’s wellness can be prioritised early on in their educational journey, which is a conversation certainly worth having.
The result of the online survey is used with permission from the Podiatry Association (Singapore). Specifically, I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Marabelle Heng, Jamie Kok and Arnold Hu.