Each year in Australia there are 4,400 diabetes-related amputations, according to Diabetes Australia. These are often the result of problems like foot ulcers caused by poor circulation or nerve damage related to diabetes, a condition which affects nearly 5% of the Australian population (National Health Survey, 2017-2018).
The good news is, a majority of these devastating surgeries can be prevented. “Most amputations, which occur due to diabetes-related foot complications, are preventable, and there is a push towards preventative strategies such as foot screening and education for these populations,” said Southern Cross University Podiatry lecturer Dr Alex Barwick.
On the prevention frontline is the podiatrist, an essential health practitioner in the care cycle of diabetic patients.
Podiatry is a branch of health care devoted to the study, diagnosis and treatment of disorders of the foot, ankle and lower leg. Diabetics should regularly visit a podiatrist who can examine and diagnose feet issues before they become a serious problem.
Within the field of podiatry, practitioners can focus on many different specialty areas, including diabetic care, surgery, sports medicine, biomechanics, geriatrics, paediatrics and primary care.
Demand is high for podiatry graduates and graduate outcomes are excellent even when compared to other health disciplines, says Dr Barwick. “Our students are in very high demand and are offered jobs even before they graduate,” she said. “People who are attracted to podiatry are interested in medicine and biology but they are also hands-on problem solvers who like to help people with practical solutions to health problems”.
Southern Cross has offered a Bachelor of Podiatry since 2014 and introduced a double degree in podiatry and pedorthics in 2019. The double degree gives podiatrists a significant second string to their bow, extending their practice to manufacturing orthoses and footwear.
Student clinics are held regularly throughout the year at the Southern Cross University Health Clinic on the Gold Coast campus. These are a win-win for students who develop their clinical skills and for patients who benefit from affordable and accessible foot care.