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Some people might call it a mid-life crisis, I thought of it as a mid-life opportunity

Some people might call it a mid-life crisis, I thought of it as a mid-life opportunity

In the next in our series celebrating the podiatry profession, we speak to Andrew Shilling, a private practice podiatrist from Guernsey. As a young graduate, Andrew Shilling left a fledgling podiatry career to pursue a life with his girlfriend on Guernsey. Twenty-five years on, he decided to return to practice. He told us his story:

Andrew Shilling’s initial route into podiatry will sound familiar to many. Receiving treatment for an ingrown toenail as a young teenager sparked an interest in the field. Then, in the climate of high unemployment in the 1980s, podiatry offered a safe and flexible job. Training at what was then Brighton Polytechnic (now the University of Brighton) straight after A levels, Andrew’s future seemed fairly certain.

Everything changed, however, when romance beckoned him away. His girlfriend Anita was from Guernsey and so, for Andrew, Guernsey was where he needed to be. Island life certainly suits Andrew. He has remained on Guernsey (where, happily, he is still married to Anita), but it didn’t always suit his professional life. As a graduate he had worked for two years in the NHS in England before moving. On Guernsey he found himself outside of the NHS (Guernsey is a Crown Dependency, independent of the UK apart from foreign affairs and defence, and therefore also outside of its health system). He was able to pick up work as a private practitioner with GP surgeries, but opportunities were limited, and he found that the work didn’t provide the context he was looking for at that stage of his career. 

His duties in the NHS had involved a lot of on-call work in rural locations, and he had realised he wanted to work more closely with colleagues on a regular basis. As a young podiatrist, he had wanted more engagement with other professionals to guide his development. The move to Guernsey saw him again working in quite a remote location, and he continued to feel a sense of professional isolation. Frustrated, he decided to take an opportunity that came up in marketing, later making his way onto the local government training scheme. 

Twenty-five years later, however, podiatry came calling again. 

‘I was in my late 40s, working in local government property management, and I got to a point where I thought, is this what I want to be doing for the rest of my career? And the answer was no. I had always enjoyed my work in podiatry, and had been sad to leave it behind. I started thinking that maybe now was my chance to give it another go. I wasn’t sure whether I would be able to return to podiatry after such a long break, but fortunately discovered that there were options available for getting back into it. I suppose some people might call it a mid-life crisis, but I think of it as a mid-life opportunity.’

With support from the College of Podiatry’s education team, who provided advice on returning to practice and support with finding a mentor and navigating the re-registration process with the HCPC, Andrew began to take on part-time support work, whilst shadowing a young podiatrist working on the island. Working at weekends and using annual leave to dedicate blocks of time to increasing his clinical experience, he eventually racked up enough hours of practice to qualify for re-registration. Leaving the civil service with a pre-retirement package gave the financial security he needed to set out on his own. 

Today, Andrew is one of just four podiatrists on Guernsey, but working life this time round has proved very different to his earlier experience. He has experienced none of the professional isolation he felt before. 

He points to the internet and opportunities for connecting professionally online as a key factor in preventing isolation in his podiatry career second time round. 

‘It’s so much easier these days to stay in touch with others and continue developing. We take it for granted now, but the internet has revolutionised things compared with the 80s when I started out. I can keep up with best practice on the College’s website, learn about CPD opportunities online, and confer with fellow podiatrists using online forums.’ 

Another big difference has been that he has approached his new career with a clearer sense of what he wants.

‘I read an article in Podiatry Now a few years ago which really made me think about what kind of podiatrist I want to be, what kind of practice I want to have, and what kind of patients I want to focus on. I hadn’t been aware of the possibilities open to me before, but I’ve realised that this is a career you can shape to your own ambitions. I think possibly having more life experience has helped as well.’

Ongoing training and development plays an important part in helping Andrew develop his practice. ‘I try to attend three or four CPD courses a year. I have become interested in biomechanics, MSK and orthotics – fields I didn’t take much interest in during my initial training but which I’m specialising in now. I also work with the other podiatrists on Guernsey. We hosted our first on-island CPD recently, when we got together to invite Nicola O’Brian, who came over to train us in Lacuna nail fenestration and nail reconstruction.’ Andrew now enjoys a varied workload, working with practitioners from a range of other fields within a multidisciplinary health practice. About 30% of his caseload is in MSK. Anita even helps out with the business side of his practice. ‘Being face to face with patients and seeing the impact I’m having is tremendously rewarding.’

Now a few years into his second podiatry career, he can look back with some satisfaction on the changes he has made. ‘The move from my old job has taken me from the public to the private sector, from being an employee to being self-employed, and from administrative duties to patient-facing clinical work. It’s a dramatic shift, but I love the autonomy and flexibility it brings. There is something  very powerful about being master of your own destiny.’  

    

Changing lives: Andrew’s patient story

‘For people on Guernsey, a small island community of 65,000 people, it is often necessary to travel to the UK for more complex health treatments. If there’s an expert here, who can provide specialist treatment on the island, then it’s really valuable as it saves people the hassle and expense of having to travel. 

‘One of my patients recently had a complicated foot injury, which included ankle damage and ruptured ligaments. They’d had successful surgery in England, but an outcome of the treatment was that they required post-operative orthotics. Unfortunately, they were finding these very painful. I was able to help by fitting a pair of new orthotics which were much more comfortable. 

This is a great outcome – my patient no longer has pain walking, and won’t have to get on a plane to have it resolved in future. That makes a huge difference to their life and is very satisfying for me.’

Return to practice 

The College offers support for people seeking to return to practice, such as finding a mentor and appropriate insurance, and information on requirements for HCPC re-registration. For more information contact cpd@scpod.org.

   





'I was in my late 40s, working in local government property management, and I got to a point where I thought, is this what I want to be doing for the rest of my career? And the answer was no. I had always enjoyed my work in podiatry, and had been sad to leave it behind. I started thinking that maybe now was my chance to give it another go'.

Andrew Shilling