Recent STRIDE magazine articles have covered workforce issues and we’re looking to ramp up our commentary on this topic, given it affects so many members. No doubt you are already familiar with stories around the difficulties in hiring podiatrists for roles which, theoretically at least, should be easy to fill.  Not only are great workplaces finding it tough to hire podiatrists, but it reminds us why we work so hard to promote podiatry as widely as possible. We want as many people as possible to understand (and be inspired by) the countless positive impacts that podiatric intervention can have on a person’s entire health and wellbeing.

The background 

The background so far is that recent university enrolment data has indicated a significant and concerning decline in the number of students choosing to study podiatry. One Australian university for example has gone from a regular intake of around 100 students per year down to 40 per year.

There are also ongoing challenges in retaining podiatrists over the longer term and creating expanded career opportunities for practitioners.

Added to this, we need to appreciate the wider context that points to similar shortages across many sectors, both within and beyond the healthcare professions. For many economic and geopolitical reasons, workforce shortages are being experienced across multiple sectors on a global scale. Such complexity raises interesting questions around accountability and action when it comes to how we deal with this issue.

One thing is clear: this is not an issue with a short term solution. We are looking at many years ahead of us as we work to attract school leavers – and other potential students at different life stages – to the profession; as well as to retain podiatrists over the long term. We are also looking at a collaborative effort between a range of stakeholders to explore the underlying issues and options, ideally funded by government support. None of these developments will happen overnight. This complex challenge requires the engagement of key stakeholders, and it must be set against the context of global workforce shortages. 

Over the coming months, the APodA is undertaking a comprehensive environmental scan to help us better understand the problem and potential solutions associated with workforce maldistribution and shortage. Understanding the complexity and depth of workforce recruitment and retention is an important first step, and it sets the scene for future roundtable discussions with key stakeholders. 

University enrolments in focus

In response to the immediate issue of boosting university enrolments, the Australasian Council of Podiatry Deans (ACPD) is working with the APodA to collaborate on a strategy which addresses this issue and related issues around workforce attrition.

Short term goals

Short term strategic goals land squarely with communication and education-based initiatives that target a range of potential students; including school leavers, students transitioning from TAFE and older students looking at a career change. The goal being, to encourage these individuals to study podiatry as their career choice. Such resources have been syndicated across multiple public-facing platforms such as Foot Health Australia, social media platforms, additional websites and email content.   

Long term goals

Longer term goals require strategies that extend outward via our member network, so that podiatrists themselves can promote the benefits of podiatry as a career choice, first-hand to potential podiatry students who span a range of life ages and stages. 

This will come into effect over the coming months and years in several ways, such as ensuring a consistent rotation of social media campaigns to promote podiatry as a profession and developing a presentation kit that can be delivered virtually to schools (with a live Q and A option). Work also is required in high schools across Australia and New Zealand, in collaboration with careers officers or equivalent roles. These initiatives will incorporate presentations by podiatrists and promote additional resources such as videos, fact sheets, posters and other printed materials. 

Podiatrists at the centre

These goals count on podiatrists to become involved when the time is right. While further information will be shared closer to the activation stage of this strategic plan, you may wish to start to consider the following ways to get involved: 

  • The APodA will strongly encourage podiatrists to share and promote assets developed by the APodA (that are hosted on Foot Health Australia website) across social networks, within clinics, with patients,  and with wider communities. 
  • Podiatrists will be invited to share their experience of the profession to form a bank of professional testimonials that can be used across podiatry, APodA, Foot Health Australia and university platforms.
  • Podiatrists will be invited to speak at high school presentations in collaboration with the APodA and relevant universities to share their personal experience of the profession and answer questions.

If any of the above appeals to you, please register your interest at info@podiatry.org.au and we will be in touch closer to the time with further details. 

The rationale behind the plan

Associate Professor of Podiatry at Charles Sturt University, Caroline Robinson, explains the rationale behind these strategic initiatives. “This body of work is helping to tackle what is fundamentally a complex challenge, and we are doing this with very limited resources and a lot of personal commitment. Workforce shortages are not unique to podiatry, but we are working hard to create change, assuring sustainability of our podiatry courses and the future workforce.” 

Good news so far

As you may already be aware, early data indicators look good, with the number of registered podiatrists from December 2020 to December 2021 being higher than other allied health career pathways – such as the proportional increase in registered physiotherapists for example, during the same period (5.2% registered podiatrists compared with 3% registered physiotherapists). 

More information

This article forms part of an ongoing workforce series in STRIDE where we can explore these challenges and ask some tough questions to make progress as a profession. If you would like to get involved in these initiatives contact info@podiatry.org.au 

© Copyright 2021 The Australian Podiatry Association

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