It’s hard to believe that it is nearing 6 months since starting work as a new graduate podiatrist. This time last year I would have been in the midst of studying for mid-year exams and working two jobs on the side to get me through. Full-time work seemed a lifetime away, and the idea of myself as a graduate podiatrist was very idealistic.
As a 13-year-old I imagined my twenty-something-year-old self as being mature, organised, wealthy and settled. In a similar way, as a podiatry student I imagined myself as a new graduate as being confident, independent and knowing absolutely everything there is to know about the podiatry profession.
Little did I know just how much there is to learn outside of finishing university. University teaches so many important things; the in’s and out’s of diagnosis and treatment, anatomy and physiology, practical skills, patient centred care, the high-risk-foot, biomechanics, pharmacology, surgery, paediatrics, I could honestly go on and on. But there are some things, which I will explain throughout this article, that are not learnt in the classroom, rather when you begin working as a podiatrist.
I was lucky to find myself in full-time employment within about a month of finishing exams. Better still, I was lucky enough to land myself in a workplace that was supportive, encouraging and on hand when I needed help. I was eased into a full patient load and still to this day do I wonder how I got so lucky. It made facing these challenges simple and so much less stressful.
Developing patient/practitioner relationships
This is not something I ‘struggled’ with as much, more something that I found myself learning along the way in my first months as a new graduate. At the La Trobe University Podiatry Clinic, the most times you would be able to review someone is once per week. Even still, there is the risk of changing semester timetables or the ‘first in, first served’ allocation system that meant that even if your name was signed and dated in grey lead on the front of the patient’s file, you may not necessarily get to review that same patient twice in a row.
Fast track to the real world, you may see the same patient every 8-12 weeks, every month, fortnight, or sometimes once or twice a week for an extended period of time. This is something I really enjoyed and continue to enjoy, as you can develop a strong bond with patients. At the La Trobe University Podiatry Clinic, conversations often began with “How has your day been?” “Do you have any grandkids?” “Do you live close by?” or “It’s cold/hot out isn’t it”. Obviously from there conversation would be tailored to the individual, but by the time the half-hour was over you would be back to square one with a new patient.
Since leaving University, I have valued more and more the interpersonal skills required to be great in this position. I have learned that patients’ value you remembering and asking about how their football team is going, how their work conference that they had previously been planning for went or how their bathroom renovations turned out. As well as being polite and personable, this increases patient rapport, meaning that patients will return for their follow up appointments once pain is resolved, return to see you for any secondary complaints, and comply with your treatment recommendations.
The in’s and out’s of private health insurance:
Which private health company does and doesn’t cover podiatry, what codes to use for what service, the effect private health insurance could potentially have choosing treatment, that people not covered by private health insurance may not wish to return for a review, and that they may not be able to receive the same gold-standard treatment as someone who is covered. Okay, that was a mouthful! Basically, I knew nothing about private health insurance and I had never considered how it could affect my treatment. I had never considered the affect private health insurance could affect whether or not someone is happy returning weekly for dry needling, shockwave therapy or review of a return-to-sport rehabilitation program. The affect of this only occurred to me during treatment of a painful wart for a child who wasn’t covered by private health insurance. The patient was eligible for ongoing treatment of a painful wart; in fact this would have been considered the gold standard in treatment. But just like financial status, the private health status of this patient meant that treatment had to be tailored to what was affordable for the family.
My only advice on this note for a new graduate would be to of course take into consideration the patients financial status. But always educate the patient on all of their options, offer the benefits and risks to each treatment, and allow them to decide on which treatment plan is affordable for them based on your recommendations. Most importantly, do not assume which treatment someone can and cannot afford.
How to self-marketing and develop a client list
This is something else that dawned upon me when I was a couple of weeks into starting work at a new clinic. It made me realise: a) that I had no idea how to self-market myself, and b) how lucky I was to be in a position where I did not have to worry financially about how many patients I was seeing in a given week.
Nonetheless, starting work in a brand new clinic drove me to self-market myself out of my wish to gain more experience faster, and be a valuable asset to my workplace. Starting work in a brand new clinic was frustrating in the beginning. All I wanted to do was see patients. I wanted to get out of the awkward nervous new graduate stage and be comfortable seeing patients with confidence, and the only way for that to happen was to see as many patients as possible. This taught be to be creative with marketing ideas. I set up a business’ instagram account, met with local personal trainers, assisted in giving injury prevention talks to junior sporting clubs and assisted in the treatment and management of players in NPL team Oakleigh Cannons.
My advice to new graduates that may find themselves in a similar situation would be first and fore mostly to find a workplace that is supportive. It helped tremendously that I have always been given the opportunity to see new patients, as complex as they may have been, when they walked in the door. Secondly, 90% of marketing can be done in your treatment room. Every patient you see will have a family, friends, neighbours, kids, and friends that may need treatment. All it may take is one junior footballer to walk in the door and if you leave a lasting impression, you have the potential to see 17 more little footballers and their families.
I hope that this can help any future new graduate with the transition between University and the workplace. At the end of the day, these are things that will come naturally to most people. ‘Not learning’ something at university does not necessarily mean that the course has a loophole in the curriculum. Rather there are certain things that can only be learned through personal experience.