In just under 7 hours time South Africa will welcome 2009. Will you make a resolution to become a podiatrist? Maybe one of your family or friends will?
Are you sitting with your ‘Matric’ results and not sure what to do next? South Africa has a serious shortage of podiatrists and as I wrote the other day even our new graduates are emigrating. There are fewer than 200 registered podiatrists for our population of about 48 million people.
However, with increasing access to health care and awareness of the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, there is a growing demand for foot care, especially for children and people with foot problems associated with diabetes and arthritis. Nevertheless, many sectors of the South African population still don’t know what a podiatrist is or what we do. As our population changes more people will need foot care.
A podiatrist is really a ‘doctor of the feet’. We diagnose and treat foot disorders and abnormalities. This is done in many ways. Biomechanical examination involves assessing the whole lower limb and its function and then prescribing the appropriate treatment to maintain or restore normal mobility or function.
Many systemic diseases affect the feet and may even be diagnosed from foot symptoms. As a podiatrist you may need to refer your patient to a specialist for further management. A large part of podiatry treatment involves the skilled use of sharp instruments to treat corns or callus or possibly perform detailed corrective surgical procedures on toe nails.
Some of the conditions that Podiatrists treat are fungal infections of the feet and toenails; corns and calluses; ingrown toenails; foot ulcers in diabetes; causes of foot pain in arthritis. Most podiatrists incorporate orthotics and insoles into their treatment when necessary.
The assessment and management of childrens’ foot problems forms an important part of a podiatrists work, whilst some podaitrists are skilled in the managemment of foot problems arising from sports. Nowadays, prevention of foot problems has become very important, so foot health education is also part of podiatry practice.
Although there is no official specialist register for podiatrists, many of us have developed ‘special interests’ in sports injuries, chronic disease, children or the elderly.
The day to day work of a podiatrist is interesting and varied. Giving relief from pain or diagnosing the cause of a foot problem is both challenging and stimulating. You do need to be able to work alone but also need to be a ‘people person’ to relate to the different patients you meet every day. Most podiatrists are in private practice, but we hope there will be an increasing deployment of podiatrists in the State Health services in future. For example Limpopo Province appointed their first graduate podiatrist.
To practice in South Africa you have to register with the Health Professions Council of South Africa.(HPCSA). This means that you become part of the Team of health care professionals providing care to South Africans and that you adhere to ethical standards.(By the way, it is illegal to practice as a podiatrist in South Africa if you are not registered with the HPCSA. So always check the credentials of a podiatrist).
To become a podiatrist in South Africa requires four years of full-time study at the University of Johannesburg. You will obtain a Bachelors degree and be able to go into practice immediately. Although bursaries are limited I believe this is changing as Provincial Health Departments begin to realise the value of foot care. Your entrance is dependent on your Admission Points Score (APS) or your M-score.
There are still vacancies for 2009 enrolment. So why not contact the University of Johannesburg – they reopen on 5th January 2009 – at 011 559 6167 or www.uj.ac.za
However you welcome in the New Year, dancing the night away, taking it easy at home with friends, walking on the beach on an exotic island or if you are unlucky, at work! Enjoy yourself and I wish you all good foot health and happiness in 2009.
TAKE CARE OF YOUR PAIR! SEE A PODIATRIST