Podiatrists provide treatment relating to the health and function of a person's foot, ankle and lower leg; achilles tendinitis, sports injuries, bunions, flat feet, shin pain, risk foot management (diabetes and rheumatology), paediatrics and sports medicine.

AUT offers the only podiatry degree in New Zealand. The first year is 80 per cent theory, but by third year the work is 70 per cent practical.

During the first two years students gain clinical exposure at AUT's on-campus podiatry clinic. Clinical hours increase each year and, in third the year, students do a five-week block at AUT Podiatry and five weeks off campus in clinics.

Anatomy and kinesiology, clinical biomechanics, psychology and lifestyle development are part of first-year study. The second year includes pharmacology for professional practice, pathology and podiatric microbiology.

Year three includes specialised surgical training for minor foot procedures, podiatric medicine, chronic disease management in podiatry, podiatric medical imaging, health promotion and health law and ethics. Papers emphasizing Maori health can be included. Podiatrists are registered by the Podiatrists Board of New Zealand. Qualified New Zealand podiatrists can practise in Australia, Singapore, and the United Kingdom.

GRADUATE
Rebecca Gifford
* 21
* Podiatrist
* Foot Mechanics, Tauranga
* Completed degree November 2009

I always was interested in sport but not necessarily in personal training or sport science. I decided on podiatry after an AUT information day.

You do a lot of anatomy, which is the essence of podiatry. I got in with my university entrance, but I didn't have science subjects. Some of my classmates did a foundation first. About 45 of us started; around 10 dropped out.

The classes were practical and hands-on, especially anatomy. In third year we also learned how to read X-rays and scan. We also made and modified orthotics.

We did lots of practical assessments and exams, including conducting a normal consultation from start to finish. We started working in AUT's clinic in the second semester. We then did outside placements two days a week, three hours a day in hospitals, rest homes, orthotic manufacturers and the Ellerslie Limb Centre. Initially we worked with feet and nails and skin conditions, then moved on to complex foot pain and orthotics.

We had to do 1000 hours of hands-on work to graduate. It was through placements I found a love for biomechanics; how the lower limb functions and how to help people with pain in that area.

I work at Foot Mechanics as a podiatrist. I've been here five months. It is a very supportive place to work. I do a lot of biomechanical work and have learned so much in such a short time; I really didn't expect to develop my skills so quickly. I got a job here after doing catch-up time for my degree practicum hours. I was from the Bay of Plenty, so I emailed Foot Mechanics and asked if I could come in for a day and watch their lead podiatrist in consult. Later, they offered me a job.

The degree was good preparation, giving me a solid foundation. The degree covered everything but our exposure to more complex cases was restricted.

I could recognise symptoms etcetera from our study, but I didn't get practical exposure to more complex cases. I would have liked a longer period on practicum. I believe this year the degree includes five- or six-week practicum in third year, which is a great idea.

However, in comparison to the UK, we do a lot more practical work, particularly with biomechanics.

The most challenging thing for me as a graduate was learning how to explain things to patients without confusing them. It really takes time to develop your own way of explaining things you've become used to describing in technical and academic jargon because of your degree study. I'm actually moving to Christchurch this week.

I didn't intend to leave but my partner has been offered a job there that he can't refuse.

EMPLOYER
John Miller
* General manager
* Foot Mechanics NZ

Successful podiatrists need an understanding of basic physics because biomechanics is the application of physics to a body. They need good technical skills and refined motor skills.

They also need great communication skills and the ability to build rapport and be friendly. For example, a big part of the role is dealing with older people with generic foot health conditions who need to be approached with empathy.

AUT School of Podiatry provides the technical knowledge and skills and practising certificate required to produce people that are safe to practise. Our job as an employer is to develop the professional component further.

The AUT degree is well set up for the New Zealand market. We are an active nation and have a lot of muscular/skeletal problems and the degree covers that thoroughly. In the UK, diabetes and high-risk foot management is of the biggest concern so they concentrate on that more. We're very supportive of the longer practicum AUT has introduced because it is through extended observation of podiatrists that students learn how to communicate effectively.

BUSINESS MANAGER
Carlo Ellis
* Foot Mechanics

Rebecca had a good, positive attitude and was a smart cookie.

Work-ready graduates have a big advantage and Rebecca has worked since she was 14, and knew what "going to work" required.

Graduates have a lot to learn about dealing with patients. You have to be able to deal with appointments running over time or explaining a treatment plan carefully to someone after a really busy or difficult day.

Podiatry is mainly a private sector profession with only a few experienced podiatrists in district health boards. New graduates can work for one of 30 podiatry practices that employ more than one person, or go into self-employment.

We are the largest employer of podiatrists in New Zealand and believe graduates learn a lot by working with other podiatrists.

We provide mentoring and an employee development programme to ensure our podiatrists are motivated and learning.

It certainly helps our productivity and retention if employees are satisfied.

TRAINING PLACE
Qualification: Bachelor of Health Science - Podiatry
Where: AUT, North Shore Akoranga Campus
Contact: 0800 288 864 or (09) 921 9999, courseinfo@aut.ac.nz, www.aut.ac.nz
Entry requirements: NCEA University Entrance or equivalent. Science subjects advantageous.
2010 fees: $5300
Starting salary: $45,000-$55,000
Intakes: March and July
Class make-up: Maximum of 50 of which 50-60 per cent are school leavers, 15-18 per cent Maori and 4-8 per cent international.

angela@careerideas.co.nz