This month’s feature article places the podiatrist at the centre. Written by Dr Malia Ho – one of three directors of the Australasian Council of Podiatry Deans and senior lecturer at the School of Primary and Allied Healthcare at Monash University – the focus is on podiatric workforce shortages, and your role in this challenge.
The accompanying article on the role of the Australasian Council of Podiatry Deans (ACPD) may provide more context if you are not yet familiar with this entity
This article focuses on the falling number of individuals choosing podiatry as a career. You are no doubt already aware that there are insufficient numbers of new graduate podiatrists available to meet workforce demands in the near future, both in Australia and overseas.
This may result in patients finding it difficult to access quality and timely care, due to lesser availability of services. Practitioners will also be overburdened with high patient loads.
Being a global workforce challenge, this extends beyond the scope of podiatry and accordingly, the answer isn’t simple. Traditionally, most podiatrists regard this workforce shortage as essentially being a university or educator’s responsibility. For example, believing that the answer lies in universities needing to actively promote their podiatry course at career fairs, and so forth.
While there is truth in this, the solution is a lot more nuanced and it involves all podiatrists.
Podiatrists not only have a crucial part to play in encouraging individuals to take up podiatry as a career, but also in showcasing the diverse pathways that are available once you have chosen to become a podiatrist. From personal experience, and also from existing student feedback, many students and qualified podiatrists choose podiatry as a career as a result of their interactions with a podiatrist. Perhaps this is even how you came to settle on podiatry as a career path.
Let’s recap on what you might consider mentioning to could-be podiatrists, and which myths deserve to be promptly busted!
Podiatry offers lots of pathways
Podiatry yields a wide scope of higher order practice that deserves to be promoted when you next speak to a could-be podiatrist.
This includes endorsement to prescribe scheduled medicines, podiatric surgery, and the ability to be accredited in areas such as sports biomechanics, paediatrics, high risk foot and so on. Then there are research pathways, within and beyond these areas, which can be pursued.
If anyone you speak to shows an interest in podiatry, don’t forget to emphasise this point!
The exciting role of technology is growing
Let’s not overlook the role of technology when it comes to inspiring could-be podiatrists in your next conversation. As podiatrists we are in the fortunate position to be able to leverage technology to do what we do better, faster, and cheaper.
Examples of this include:
There are so many more opportunities to engage in emerging technologies! Bear in mind too that our university curriculum is continually being refreshed and updated to ensure graduates are familiar with these changes.
The world is their oyster
The next time someone shows an interest in podiatry, don’t forget to highlight that Australian podiatrists have an internationally recognised degree, giving them the ability to work in a range of overseas locations, including the UK, and many parts of South East Asia such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia.
Now that we have looked at some positive points worth highlighting, let’s flip the coin to look at which myths should be busted in your next conversation with a potential future podiatrist.
The following myths can deter people from becoming podiatrists. Yet with your help, they needn’t be!
Podiatrists only treat feet …Or we only cut nails and remove corns, or we only assess footwear…that’s not entirely true!
Firstly, we all know that if our feet are painful or not functioning well, we are potentially unable to perform many daily living activities such as being able to:
As podiatrists we know that we impact on and improve an individual’s quality of life. This is so much more far-reaching than this myth demonstrates!
Speaking of far reaching, it is also worth highlighting that podiatrists can provide ‘birth to grave’ podiatric care! The variety in our roles is not only stimulating and challenging; it deserves to be talked about more.
For example, in one clinical day a podiatrist could see a baby with positional talipes requiring serial casting, followed by a teenager with a lesion requiring dermatascope use, then perhaps a young adult with newly diagnosed diabetes requiring a neurovascular assessment and education, or a middle-aged athlete with a biomechanical issue requiring orthoses, or lastly, an elder adult requiring footwear advice for aged feet. We definitely do more than cut nails and remove corns!
Most practitioners will be able to include more than I have listed here, this is only the start. Over to you in your next career-inspiring conversation …
I can’t be a podiatrist if I don’t like interacting with other patients (or I don’t like touching feet)
If you hear comments like this, be sure to explain that other areas are available to podiatrists after graduation, such in orthotic / footwear manufacture and design, or a range of research pathways.
In fact, if the person you are chatting to claims any of the following areas of interest, be sure to follow this up with how each area can be applied to the world of podiatry! For example…
Area of interest: Engineering and technology
How this translates to podiatry: 3D printing and orthotic manufacture.
Area of interest: Biomechanics
How this translates to podiatry: The study of human movement analyses using 3D motion capture.
Area of interest: Maths
How this translates to podiatry: There are stacks of statistics involved in research, which can then be applied to improving healthcare.
Area of interest: Design
How this translates to podiatry: Improving and testing new orthoses / footwear.
Area of interest: Art and craft
How this translates to podiatry: Making chair side off-loading felt pads or interdigital devices.
Area of interest: Marketing
How this translates to podiatry: Working in sales for wound care companies or insurance, or running your own clinic and learning first-hand how to best market it.
Area of interest: Management
How this translates to podiatry: Administrative responsibilities in hospitals and community health practices.
Area of interest: Business
How this translates to podiatry: Start your own podiatry clinic and manage your own team of podiatrists!
Area of interest: Teaching
How this translates to podiatry: Become an academic in a university and impact the next generation of podiatrists!
As a podiatrist, I can’t do anything if people choose not to study podiatry. (It’s not my responsibility to take on.)
You can have a major role to play in inspiring the next generation of podiatrists. Actively promote podiatry in a positive light – share the Australian Podiatry Association’s (APodA) resources, including hanging awareness posters in your waiting room.
Interestingly, introducing yourself as a podiatrist is a great conversation starter at social events. I used to introduce myself as a podiatrist to people I met at events and functions. I would usually draw a blank, or I would receive a response such as ‘Oh, you are a paediatrician!’, or ‘Oh, you are a dietician!’. This usually leads to a conversation about what podiatrists do, and most people are genuinely intrigued! These days, more people are aware of podiatrists, but as mentioned above, there are still some misconceptions regarding our scope of practice. So, talk enthusiastically about what we do, get involved in local school talks, career fairs, and local university open days. Podiatrists are the best-placed podiatry advocates, and you may be in the position to positively influence someone’s career trajectory!
Ultimately, this workforce shortage is everyone’s problem. Whether you work in a public or private setting, having insufficient staff and an increasing patient load means more work for everyone. As a result, you may find it challenging to recruit new staff or to find cover for existing staff or even to go on long periods of leave. This problem will impact everyone in the profession, and it already is. Everyone has a part to play!
© Copyright 2021 The Australian Podiatry Association