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From property solicitor to NHS podiatrist

From property solicitor to NHS podiatrist

In the next in our series celebrating the podiatry profession, we spoke to Gemma Fitt, an NHS podiatrist from South East London. Gemma came late to podiatry, having previously worked as a commercial property solicitor, but says it was the experience of her earlier career that makes her truly appreciate the value of her new one

‘It’s funny, podiatry can provide an amazing career, but the brilliant things about it appeal more if you’ve experienced other working environments or a different profession,’ says Gemma Fitt, a band 6 specialist community podiatrist at Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Trust. Gemma joined the profession after graduating from the University of East London in 2016, but had previously worked for 10 years in property law – an experience that gives her a particular vantage point when it comes to her current career.  

‘There were things about working as a solicitor that I enjoyed, like the problem solving and helping people, but I always questioned whether law was the right field for me. I think it was when I returned  to work after the birth of my first child that I really started to consider making a change. I had always been interested in healthcare and came to the conclusion that, if a job was going to take me away from my children, then it had better be something I really care about. It was then I decided finally to take the leap to a career in healthcare.’ 

With a wide range of health career options available, how did she decide on podiatry? ‘The more research I did into health careers, the more I realised that podiatry ticked all the boxes! I couldn’t find anything else that offered the variety: different avenues of progression with the ability to specialise, the job satisfaction in bringing immediate relief to patients and the flexibility in terms of being able to balance it with the rest of my life.’ 

After having her second child, she didn’t return to law but instead did an Open University course to get her science knowledge up to the required level, and then enrolled at the Podiatry School at the University of East London. 

Has the transition been a completely smooth process? ‘I’ve loved making the move into podiatry. I enjoyed studying for my degree and I am now really enjoying working as a community podiatrist in the NHS, but there have been challenges. I think the biggest obstacle was arranging childcare around doing the full-time degree. When you start practising in the real world it is also challenging trying to get everything done within the allocated appointment time. It’s not just treating the patient but also the paperwork, referrals and liaising with other healthcare professionals and so on. But it comes with experience.’

So, what is it about podiatry that appeals so much? ‘I love working with my hands and I love helping people. It’s also such a privilege to have a window into people’s lives in the way you can as a podiatrist.’

A lot of this is down to the relationships that can be formed with patients. ‘I get 25 minutes per appointment with my patients, which is a lot longer than a GP, for example, and some patients will come to see you regularly for many years, so you can really get to know them. People talk while I am providing treatment. I find it’s a listening service as well – loneliness can be a huge problem among older patients. I am well placed to help patients find support in other areas too, perhaps redirecting them to other health services for other health conditions or towards support services for social needs. There are safeguarding issues that we can pick up on and I have found myself liaising with social care, mental health services and bereavement support.’

The nature of the work is also a good fit. ‘Another pleasing aspect of my job is that my patients generally want to see a podiatrist – they’re glad to be in my clinic because I can make things better for them. Most health jobs are rewarding because you know you are doing good, but I get to make most of my patients feel better within a single appointment.’

The flexibility of podiatry is also a major draw for Gemma, who balances life with two young children with a flexible work pattern in the clinic. ‘I’ve been very lucky to be able to change work patterns as circumstances have evolved. I’ve just restructured my working hours to enable me to collect my children from school three days a week.’

For Gemma, it is the experience of a previous career where there was a less positive work-life balance that makes her appreciate her current situation more. ‘I would say to anyone who is working, take your job and look at what the best bits are – and I bet you there will be a career in podiatry that offers those things and more but with far fewer of the drawbacks.’ 

The experience has made Gemma into something of an evangelist for the profession. She has volunteered for the ‘Inspiring the Future’ programme that sees professionals visiting schools to encourage young people to think about different careers, and argues passionately about the need to bring people into the profession – including those currently in other careers. 

‘If we don’t get people into the profession then we’re going to find in a few years that many parts of our jobs will be done by other people. For example, I foresee a future where when someone who presents with a foot wound, now normally seen by a podiatrist, will see a specialist nurse. The nurse may be excellent at wound care, but will they have had the training that podiatrists have in biomechanics, vascular, diabetes, footwear, or any of those other elements that are so vital? If we don’t take steps to defend the profession it could disappear, and that can only be bad for our  patients.’   

Changing lives. Gemma’s patient story

‘My favourite patient stories are where I get to see the patients less and less often. I have patients whom I used to see every four weeks. They would come to me in pain, I’d fix them up, and then after three weeks they’d be in pain again. When you’re seeing someone regularly for a period of time, you build a rapport with them, you start learning about their lives, and you can work with them on making small changes to their lifestyle that mean they start to look after their feet better. 

It’s not always easy. For example, you can’t just tell someone to buy some new shoes who might struggle to afford them, or who may have to wear particular shoes for work, or whose footwear is part of their identity, but by getting to know them and working with them you can help them make changes that suit them. Then after a while you’re not seeing them every four weeks, but every three months, or six months. It makes such a difference to their lives not to be in pain. All patients are important, of course, but those are the patients that really mean a lot to me.’ 

    

We want to hear about podiatrists in all settings and career stages as we celebrate the diversity of our profession. If you've got a story to tell, get in touch! podiatry.now@cop.org.uk


‘When you start practising in the real world it is challenging trying to get everything done within the allocated appointment time. It’s not just treating the patient but also the paperwork, referrals and liaising with other healthcare professionals and so on. But it comes with experience.’

Gemma Fitt