A Coffee Break with Ben Blake: “It keeps you on your toes!”

08 Oct 2021Interview

Julia caught up with podiatrist Ben Blake for a chat about his career journey, working in the pandemic and CPD.

Ben, how did you get into podiatry?

“At college, my intention was to study medicine. However, I hit a curveball with my final exams and so looked into other fields of study instead and came across podiatry; I thought it was definitely something I could do.

“On reflection, it was a happy accident. I really like podiatry now that I'm doing it, and I would have given it far more consideration initially had I known about it as a career option instead of medicine. The social aspect of podiatry is much better than it would have been as a junior doctor experiencing night shifts, long hours and missing Christmasses and other important occasions: in podiatry, I've not come across a role that requires "antisocial hours". This really helped my transition into the working world after graduating five years ago, as it was a similar adjustment that non-medical professionals would make after uni.”

Tell us about your career so far?

“Since graduating in 2016, I firstly worked for the NHS but I moved to a private sector role four months ago. In the NHS, my role was just addressing foot pain: we’d have 40-minute appointments and try to give the patient as much information in that time as possible using our hands and eyes. We would try to see patients a couple of times, usually with a six-week gap between appointments, and refer them on to another team if needed at the end of treatment. Time is crucial in the NHS because of what has to be prioritised: high-risk wound care or prevention of wounds. The work was intense and you had to find a way to treat patients in the best possible way.

“Working in the NHS was a great learning experience. But when the job came up to move to a private practice, FootFocus Podiatry, the opportunity was too good to turn down, plus there was the possibility for lots of progression. I find my new role more varied than before: it keeps you on your toes! There’s a wide breadth and scope of work where you might see a mixture of different cases in one day - nail cutting, skincare, verrucas, ingrowing toenails, functional foot pain, you name it. Each session is just over an hour long and there’s lots of technology available to help out with MSK particularly, but also technology and treatments that aren't available on the NHS for things like verrucas. This enables me to give patients a more detailed picture of what might be going on and how to fix it.”

You were working in the NHS during COVID-19 - what effects did you notice?

“The podiatry service had to stop taking referrals - we’d only see anyone already on our books or speak to them on the phone. Once we cleared our backlog with the expectation of redeployment (which didn’t happen), my area [Southern Health NHS Foundation Trust] was then able to accept referrals again, albeit via phone call. Open wounds and ingrown toenails were being seen quite frequently and there was a lot of nail surgery towards the end of my time at the NHS.

“Generally in the private clinic, people are happy to come to in-person consultations now and they understand the risks of doing so, so telehealth is quite rare now. In the NHS, there are still backlogs for other issues and ongoing telehealth, at least for initial assessments. But it can be hard to assess a podiatry issue over the phone sometimes. Face-to-face consultations are much easier as patients can point, rather than work out how to describe their issues.”

What sorts of CPD activities do you carry out?

“My favourite types of CPD activities are interactive ones, as I learn more from doing things with my learning style. I recently completed an ultrasound course in a four-week block, which was online but we had homework each week to use our own ultrasound machines and send the image in.

“Other than that, I quite like CPD I can attend in person or listen to, apply to my practice, and refer to again when I need to. I’m not as good at keeping a CPD record as I should be and I’ve broken some of my good habits from uni, but I do tend to jot things down as they come up.”

What advice would you give someone looking to enter podiatry?

“Form good habits earlier on and keep to them. Gain a breadth of clinical experience rather than doing lots of the same types, as this will help you find out what you’re really interested in. Keep the scope wide - there should be something out there that suits everyone.”

What are your career aspirations for the future?

“I want to be the best I can be. So far I haven’t come across any barriers to working in a specific role or field, but I’m still exploring my options. There can be steep learning curves at times, but I want to keep improving."

A huge thank you to Ben for taking the time to share some insight into his career with us. If you enjoyed this article and found it a valuable insight into the life of a podiatrist, please share it on Twitter.

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