At times, individuals question their purpose in life. They wonder about the significance of what they are contributing to others. This is especially true with most healthcare providers as day after day they give themselves selflessly to the needs of patients.
Podiatry is a unique profession in that it is not perceived as a “classic” medical specialty. In the realm of medical history, the precise definition and origin of the podiatry specialty are modern in comparison to some other branches of health care. Many times, the contributions of podiatric physicians to society are downplayed. Often, a physician only receives the highest prestige if he or she “saves lives.”
I do not disagree that having the knowledge and skills to perform life saving procedures is critical. However, the contributions of podiatrists to their patients are phenomenal. On a daily basis, podiatric physicians perform life-altering procedures, which can improve the quality of people’s lives in immeasurable ways.
A lot of people take for granted the simple act of taking a pain-free step. In a recent pediatric case of mine, a young boy broke out into tears because of the severity of pain that he has been suffering from due to three years of calcaneal apophysitis and gastroc-soleus equinus. He was crushed because his soccer career was being halted. In fact, he was so dedicated to getting better that he asked if he could set his alarm clock during the night to wake up and do his stretching exercises. It was heartbreaking that a foot ailment was affecting his well-being to the extent that he was willing to sacrifice sleep.
That same evening, I spoke with a close relative. He is a young man who has unfortunately gone through grave physical demise due to a hematologic disorder. Essentially, his ankle is so osteoarthritic that he is “in pain daily.” He went on to explain that it is difficult for him to work in sales because it requires him to be mobile for the majority of the day. In addition, he is planning vacations now for fear that he will be immobile in the near future.
At that moment, I realized that lower extremity ailments not only affect patients’ present circumstances but affect how they perceive the future as well. In this sense, podiatrists possess the skills to be lifesavers. Podiatrists have the resources to intervene positively in patients’ lives daily. Such an act may be as simple as a smile upon entering the room of a patient who is having a bad day or correcting an ailment that is preventing patients from living their lives as they would like.
More obviously, many life-threatening systemic conditions initially present themselves symptomatically in the lower extremity. Recognition of such diseases by a podiatrist who practices holistically may lead to a better prognosis.
Fortunately, our profession can serve such needs. It is important never to overlook the fact that we are lower extremity specialists. No other occupation has the extensive foot and ankle training that we do. If there are any unanswered concepts regarding this region of the body, it is up to us to work toward the solution.
Cherish the experiences you gained in graduate school and residency training. Being able to participate in a “hands-on” didactic experience early in our training is a privilege that you should not take lightly. In certain nations, it is not uncommon for even a fellow to be denied participation in surgical cases.
It is an evolutionary time for podiatry in that training is becoming more uniform, interrelationships with other medical fields are being developed and the opportunities for evidence-based medicine are abundant. The forward acceleration of podiatric medicine is both motivating and encouraging.
There are many facets of podiatry that have not yet been explored, mostly because of the profession’s limited size and heavy clinical emphasis. It is not necessarily practical to devote the bulk of your time to conducting research.
However, the small act of staying current with peer-reviewed journal articles increases your knowledge base, which may in effect improve treatments to your patients and their overall health. It is not uncommon for patients to challenge you with information that they have read pertaining to their care. If you are able to convince them that you are knowledgeable about the topic, their regard for you will skyrocket.
The podiatric profession has made huge strides since its humble beginning. As a new player to the arena of medicine, I believe it is imperative to preserve podiatry’s reputation in a positive light. Just like a young child with an insatiable quest for knowledge, podiatry will continue to grow.
Dr. Ryans is a first-year resident at SSM DePaul Health Center in St. Louis.
Dr. McCord recently retired from practice at the Centralia Medical Center in Centralia, Wash.