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What's it really like?
Robert Willis is an experienced chiropodist with a busy practice called Tamar Podiatry Clinic, which operates in Derriford, Plymouth and Saltash in the UK.
What made you decide or choose to get into this sort of career?
I have always been fascinated with medical things: ways to treat ailments and assist patients with quelling their pain. I enjoy the flexibility of working in my own practice, and I can basically choose when to work. The job also affords me the opportunity to continue gaining higher qualifications whilst I am working. I believe that continual professional development is essential.
Do you have a standard day or a standard type of `exercise'?
No two days are the same. With every new patient comes a new challenge, so in this respect, there is always something to learn. For that reason, it never becomes boring.
What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry to which you must attend?
General foot care, which includes hard skin removal, cutting nails, enucleating corns, toe nail surgery using local anaesthetic and production of custom-made orthotics for people with gait problems.
What do you like most about the job?
Meeting people and relieving their pain. It’s great when you are able to treat someone who has had to live with a persistent problem because the benefit to their everyday life is palpable. The look of relief on the face of a client after you provide what to yourself is a simple remedy is the reason I keep doing this job!
What do you like least about the job?
On occasion, the smell, but in all honesty, in private practice this is quite rare!
What are the key responsibilities?
Looking after people’s foot health. That sounds like a simple answer but in truth, that is effectively the service you are commissioned to deliver.
What is the starting salary, and how does this increase over time with promotion?
This is currently dependent upon the fixed NHS agenda for change band 5 or 6 (the NHS Agenda for Change relating to National Health Service employees). You would need to do some research on the internet or on the NHS web site, as it is not just a case of looking up the table and reading off a number.
What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?
Recently, there have been far more graduates than available jobs in the NHS, and I think this is true of many disciplines, post-recession. There is a higher chance of having to work in private practice than there would have been five to ten years ago. However, this isn’t necessarily a problem as fewer people are seen on the NHS now, so the need for private practitioners will increase in demand also.
What are the most important qualities an applicant must and should possess?
You need to be a good listener, have a great deal of patience and a caring disposition.
Any closing questions, comments or additional advice?
This is a fantastic career. Not once do I ever get out of bed and dread coming to work. Every new day brings a challenge or two which really makes you think and draw upon the knowledge that you have. I was always taught to find a profession where you can do something that you love and get paid for doing it. I have certainly found my niche.
A chiropodist is a foot doctor who assists patients with caring for their feet and eradicating persistent and painful conditions which can occur on the foot.
A chiropodist is tasked with taking care of issues with their patient’s feet. These problems can encompass the treatment of athlete’s foot, blisters, corn removal, hard skin removal, chilblains, gout, in-growing toenails, verrucas, sweaty feet and arthritis. Some problems are inherited (such as arthritis), whilst others occur as the result of poor-fitting shoes or the additional pressure put on the foot contact patches by playing sports. The average person walks a total distance of around 75,000 miles in their lifetime, meaning that the limb is subject to constant pressure and eventual wear.
Many will be familiar with the issue of in-growing toenails, which affects a great number of people. This painful condition is difficult to deal with because the nails tend to “recurl” after the troublesome elongation has been removed. Verrucas are another very common problem, and result from the feet coming into contact with surfaces that carry the Human Papilova Virus (HPV), a highly infectious viral strain. Many patients also visit their chiropodist to treat sweaty feet; this is a localised result of hyperhidrodis, which is an uncontrolled sweat response from the body’s central nervous system. The chiropodist (now more frequently referred to as a podiatrist) must be able to deal with this wide range of conditions and advise the patient on how best to deal with their issues long-term.
Anticipated starting salary for chiropodists who wish to practise within the NHS is comparable to that of other therapists, including those in the fields of physiotherapy and occupational therapy. According to The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, the starting salary is approximately £19,500. This can increase up to £90,000 for a highly-proficient consultancy post. The Society also notes that many podiatrists who work in the NHS also run part-time private practices. Many practitioners choose to “stick private” and remuneration varies depending on operating hours, the size of the practice, the region and the types of services the podiatry clinic offers to their patients.
Normally, A-levels or an equivalent access course is required to enter a BSc Podiatry degree, and courses are offered at 13 institutions around the UK. After successful completion, a Postgraduate degree is not a prerequisite, but further study is always required to remain registered with an approved professional body, such as with the HPC (Health Professionals Council).
Most of the treatment work is carried out either in the chiropodist’s own clinic or in a clinic shared with other practices. Some podiatrists also undertake home visits which are specific to the elderly or the handicapped, in instances where patients are incapable of visiting the clinic. Some chiropodists admit that the smell of feet can be an issue at times, but this is an occupational hazard which is unavoidable. Part of the chiropodist’s remit is to work with the patient to redress this issue over the medium and long term for the better health of the patient.
New entrants to the profession are expected to have a sound knowledge of the various types of foot ailment as a result of completing a university degree. However, as the podiatrist develops, they will become more able to administer modified or improvised techniques to deal with less common problems. Chiropodists are encouraged to exchange knowledge of best practice with the various organisations within the sector.
Although the concept of operating one’s own small practice initially seems limiting, the chiropodist will be immersed in a science that they are potentially able to develop or improve for the greater good of the profession. Those who practise as NHS chiropodists can advance through four tiers of progression to eventually become senior consultants.
The most notable employer of chiropodists in the UK is obviously the NHS, although it is often reported that there are more people studying chiropody than there are jobs available. According to The Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, graduate employment rates in private practices vary, but are generally very good. Currently, of those who are seeking a job, about 83% of students are employed within 6 months of graduation and 100% within the first year of graduation. There is no one clear leader in the private sector.