Are Eight Schools Too Many For Podiatry?

By Jeff Hall, Editor-in-Chief

Three years ago, enrollments at podiatry schools were in serious decline and it was deemed a crisis situation. It got to the point where some even suggested reducing the number of podiatry schools from seven to six or perhaps five. However, experienced educators noted that enrollment trends are very cyclical and, sure enough, there have been positive increases in enrollment the last two years. According to the American Association of Colleges of Podiatric Medicine (AACPM), the total first year enrollment at the six AACPM schools improved to 461 in 2003, a 15 percent increase from two years ago. While this is encouraging news, is the profession truly ready to embrace another podiatry school? We’ll find out next fall when Midwestern University offers the Arizona Podiatric Medicine Program (AZPod), a new four-year program that will have slots for 30 students (see “New Podiatry School To Debut Next Year,” News And Trends). Establishing the podiatry program within a larger university setting seems to be the right approach and follows the merger trend of recent years (Scholl and CSPM). It fosters economies of scale in that the podiatric program can share administrative overhead and other basic business expenses with other programs at the university. Incoming podiatry students will also be able to take advantage of existing labs and other facilities. Reining in these costs can make a difference when it comes to maintaining steady tuition levels. However, as one educator points out, if the new program is going to have a real impact, there must be true integration of the podiatry students with other medical students at the university. To that end, Jeffrey C. Page, the Director of AZPod, says incoming podiatry students “will be taking all of the basic science courses with the osteopathic medicine students and will share some clinical courses with both PA and DO students.” This is important as building and maintaining relationships with those pursuing other fields during school and a subsequent residency can provide a strong foundation for referrals when podiatry students go into practice. With that in mind, another potential lure is the location of the campus in Glendale, Arizona. Previously, the conventional wisdom was students didn’t want to stray too far from their residency program (many of which are within close proximity to the schools) after graduating because that is where they have forged key alliances and potential referral sources. Unfortunately, when plenty of experienced DPMs are well established in these areas, graduates have to explore other locations. As Dr. Page points out in the aforementioned news article, this isn’t a problem in Arizona, which is “at or below” the number of DPMs “required in metropolitan areas with fee for service plans.” In other words, podiatry students who want to stay relatively close by after their residency shouldn’t have a problem establishing themselves in the community. There is a disparity of opinion on how AZPod will affect the enrollment at other schools. Some think it will have a negative impact (particularly on the enrollment of CSPM) yet some educators at other schools do not foresee it having an adverse effect. Timing is everything. While the positive enrollment gains in recent years are encouraging, the total number is still on the low end and would seem to discourage an eighth podiatry school. Perhaps the greatest challenge for the AZPod program is how to differentiate itself from the other schools while building and maintaining the support of the profession. It’s a tall order but perhaps a catalyst for change is just what the doctor ordered.

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