As a young ballerina, I was accustomed to the rigorous training regimen expected of me. Unfortunately, it took a toll on my foot. My ballet teacher noticed the injury on my foot as I was changing out of my pointe shoes one day. She recommended me to see a podiatrist – a term I was unfamiliar with at first – and I went ahead to make an appointment to get my foot examined.
I could only look in awe as I watched the podiatrist treat my ingrown toenails, which by then had plunged into the flesh. That experience left an impression on me (not because of the pain); I never thought anyone would pay so much attention to the feet!
As fate would have it, I came across an advertisement for a podiatry scholarship years later and it evoked my memory of that past encounter with the podiatrist. I decided to dive a little deeper and find out more about the profession and the course. After much research, I felt certain that podiatry was for me and hence, applied for it. That marked the start of my journey in healthcare.
As a podiatrist, every day is filled with new and exciting challenges. I am part of an interdisciplinary orthopaedic musculoskeletal team, which also consists of the orthopaedic surgeon, nurse and physiotherapist. If there is any chronic pain relating to psychosocial factors, we may have to rope in other professionals such as colleagues from the pain management unit, psychiatrists, counsellors, social workers or the art and music therapists. All of us have one goal in common: To treat and resolve our patients' problems.
To this day, I will not forget this particular patient of mine. She was a middle-aged lady who had been home-bound for quite a while after walking became too painful. At some point, I guess she knew she needed medical help and finally came to us for treatment.
When I first met her, she was in a wheelchair and carried two crutches. I provided treatment for foot structure which altered the way her foot moves, retrained her in walking and taught her stretching and strengthening exercises to improve her walking. I also chatted with her about her health condition and goals. Initially, I felt that it was difficult to get things going as we did not see immediate results. It took a few sessions before I managed to gain her trust. Fortunately, she became motivated to get better and followed the treatment plan we agreed on.
Months later, I received a call from the orthopaedic doctor who said: "You remember this patient? You healed her, she's walking!" When I heard those words, I felt a great sense of accomplishment. It is the most gratifying experience in my career thus far!
Podiatrists also make use of 3D scanners to scan and customise foot in-soles for patients.
When people ask me about what I do or are clueless about my job, I will tell them that we help to treat flat feet, foot wounds (especially in diabetic patients) and ingrown toenails. I usually use "feet" when describing my job as the word "foot" can be misheard as "food" and the other party starts talking about nutrition instead.
Since the podiatry course is unavailable in Singapore, there is little awareness of the profession amongst the younger generation. People do not hear much about us as we complete our studies and training overseas. I believe there is still more groundwork to be done to create more opportunities for the advancement of the profession.
Here's a little fun fact: Podiatry has only been around in Singapore for about 25 years (since 1993)! So if you are keen to join us, you will still be in time to be part of the "pioneer generation" of podiatrists to shape, mould and build the profession in Singapore.
I am Marabelle Heng, Principal Podiatrist from Singapore General Hospital. Life as a podiatrist is unique and exciting. Take that bold step if you are thinking of walking the same path as I did. I believe that it is a rewarding experience to help patients recover and stand tall on their feet again. You will not regret it.
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