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Ivan Bristow, My career in Podiatry – not your typical day in the life of!

12th September 2019

I write this as I am sitting in a hotel room staring out at the vast Lake Michigan after delivering a lecture at the Midwest Podiatry Conference in Chicago, USA. Yesterday, I was in Washington DC, presenting some of my research at a dermatology conference. Last week I was writing an article for a national magazine and then in Germany advising a company on product design. It doesn’t sound like a typical story of a podiatrist – probably because it isn’t but that’s my career.

My journey in podiatry began in 1987, when I went to College to “learn a trade”. At the age of 20, I had spent a couple of years training as an optician but quickly learnt the retail environment wasn’t for me. My parents always told me it was good to get a trade and then you can always work for yourself if you wanted to and consequently, I was offered a place to study Podiatry. I thought I knew what it would be about, but it was so much more.

As soon as I started my training, at the then Northampton School of Podiatry, I knew this was the right path for me and quickly developed a thirst for knowledge in many areas of the subject. In my second year, I spotted a malignant melanoma on a patient’s leg and from that moment on, I became fascinated with the subject of Dermatology, particularly because it wasn’t a subject that was well covered in the podiatry curriculum at that time. It always perplexed me – I thought that most of our day-to-day work involved working on or looking at the skin of the foot but we devoted so little time to studying it that I used to spend many hours reading up on the subject.

Upon graduation, my Head of School, asked me what I wanted to do when I started work. My answer was dermatology and the response from the head was “You can’t do that – you have to be a dermatologist” which only acted to spur on my interest in the face of professional adversity! Within two years I established the first podiatry clinic at the Dermatology Department. A chance meeting with an author of a dermatology textbook (who just happened to be a consultant at the hospital) encouraged me to work within the department. From there, I was able to learn an immense amount about the subject both clinically and theoretically by shadowing the consultants, registrars and nurses.

I continued to study for my teaching certificate and latterly for a master’s degree. Upon completion of my master’s degree, I felt the need to progress and so took a full-time post in academia in Northampton and then subsequently at the University of Southampton.

During this period, I began to undertake more research, teach and pursued my interest in dermatology further. By the time I had completed my PhD, I was Programme lead for Podiatry at the University of Southampton and lecturing on foot dermatology all over the world. In podiatry, this is a path less well trodden with few podiatrists expressing an interest in the subject globally, yet many patients present with skin problems to their podiatrists in clinic. Now, having left the University sector I am still lecturing to podiatrists, dermatologists and other healthcare professionals, involved in research and development whilst holding private clinics for patients with specific skin problems on their feet on a weekly basis.

As I look back over the last 30 years, I have to say it didn’t go to plan – to just be self-employed and make a quiet living in private practice in a small town somewhere – it turned out to be so much more. I am now a global traveller, researcher, author and podiatrist. My specific interest has certainly kept me alive in my career and I hope this has helped to put the dermatology back into podiatry, but most importantly improved the care of our patients.

The strength of our profession is that because we are a skilled, minority profession in healthcare there is always scope to develop ourselves further if we choose in many directions. Sometimes it’s good to take a different path as nothing is impossible – it just takes hard work and determination. Your only limit on your career is your own drive and enthusiasm. Remember there are three types of people in life – those who make it happen, those who watch it happen and those who say, “what happened?”. You just have to decide which one you want to be.

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