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HEALTH CONNECTION

Chiropodists help you put your best foot forward

By David Chilton
Special to The Toronto Sun


Stephanie Shlemkevich had a problem with her feet. So off she went to a chiropodist in her hometown of Sudbury, Ont. to get it fixed. They began to talk about the profession and how chiropodists are badly needed in all parts of Ontario, and pretty soon Shlemkevich had found a career.

She left Sudbury's Laurentian University in 2002, where she'd spent two years studying medical biology, and enrolled that same year at The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences in Toronto, the only school in Canada to teach chiropody as an independent discipline. (The University of Waterloo has a small kinesiology-chiropody degree program -- accommodating 10 students -- in conjunction with the Michener that began last year and which lasts four years.) Tuition for the three-year Michener program costs about $2,900 a year.
At The Michener Institute for Applied Health Sciences, students enrolled in the three-year chiropody program study the assessment, treatment and prevention of diseases or disorders of the foot by therapeutic, surgical, orthotic or palliative means. (Photo, The Michener Institute)


"I did want to stay in the medical profession, and chiropody would allow me to open my own practice," Shlemkevich says.

She was also mindful, as she notes, that there's a 100% employment rate for chiropodists whether they hang out their own shingle, as almost all do, or work for one of the rapidly dwindling number of public clinics in the province.

Although almost everyone in the country comes equipped with feet, the practice of chiropody is something of a medical unknown.

It's the assessment, treatment and prevention of diseases or disorders of the foot by therapeutic, surgical, orthotic or palliative means. So, for example, some people need orthotics -- arch or other supports -- to align their feet. Others might need treatment for common problems, such as ingrown or infected toenails, heel pain or plantar warts. Chiropodists can even perform soft tissue surgery under local anesthetic if the medical condition requires it.

Getting into the chiropody program at the Michener isn't easy. Diane Tyczynski, a chiropodist with a small private practice and an instructor at the Michener, says the chiropody program began in 1981 and averages 145 applicants a year for 40 places in the school's diploma stream.

"It's hugely demanding," says Tyczynski about the three-year program, an opinion Shlemkevic echoes.

The first year at the Michener is a lengthy hike through 26 hours a week of labs and lectures in addition to homework and more, Tyczynski says.

The second year is even worse, featuring daily classes from from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. plus homework and anything else that needs to be done.

The third year is given over to a research project and a clinical practicum, where students work in practice alongside a qualified chiropodist.

Applicants to the Michener program are a mixed bunch, says Tycznski. It's two-thirds women to one-third men with high school graduates, university graduates and suitably qualified mature students taking classes together.

Tycznski, who trained at the Michener from 1989 to 1992, says high school students need at least a 70% average to be considered for admission.

New doctors of chiropody must also write a licensing exam, and they are regulated by the College of Chiropodists of Ontario.

Newly qualified chiropodists shouldn't expect to get rich quick. Tycznski says first-year practitioners can earn between $40,000 and $50,000, depending on their numbers of patients and overhead costs.

Anna Georgiou, who has a private practice in Toronto's east end and who is a former executive director of the Ontario Society of Chiropodists, knows something about costs. In practice since 1994, Georgiou says start-up expenses can run to $30,000 plus office rent.

"There are certain pieces of equipment you can go a little bit cheaper on, or you can go without for a while and add them later, but the (patient) chair alone, at the time I purchased it, was $10,000."

Georgiou sees about 10 to 12 patients a day and can't say enough about her chosen profession, because as she points out, 90% of her patients leave her office feeling better.

As for any downside to chiropody, both Georgiou and Tycznski say there's still a lot of work to be done educating patients about fees.

"The problem is people are not used to paying for health care, says Tycznski, who quit a 10-year banking career because that profession's values clashed with her own less commercial outlook.

Beyond the consideration of fees, however, chiropodists seem to voice few reservations about their profession and probably won't all the time feet remain standard issue for humans.

What's the difference between chiropody and podiatry?

Although the nomenclature of both professions is different, their general practice is largely the same, and both are governed by the College of Chiropodists of Ontario. Podiatrist is favoured in the U.S. and has recently supplanted chiropodist in Britain. Canada is likely the only place in the world continuing to use chiropodist.

There are about 90 podiatrists registered with the College and about 400 chiropodists. And the word chiropodist, say those in the know, should be pronounced "sheropodist," not "keropodist."

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Career fair spotlights nurses

On Jan. 31, students interested in a career in nursing will have a chance to find out about the profession and speak to health-care providers at the Nurses4Ontario student nursing career fair.

The not-for-profit event, organized by St. Michael's Hospital in collaboration with Ryerson University, will feature leaders in health care from hospitals and health centres all over the city, who can answer your questions about the profession.

The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Jorgenson Hall at Ryerson University, 380 Victoria St. Visit nurses4ontario.com for more information.

(Reach freelancer David Chilton at davidchilton@rogers.com.)



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