3D printed feet – really

In Australia, more than 300,000 people are at risk of diabetes-related foot disease on any given day. And diabetic foot disease accounts for around 27,600 public hospital admissions, 4400 lower extremity amputations and 1700 deaths each year. All of which has boosted the need for skilled podiatrists.

But how to ensure training continues through the COVID-19 lockdown? The University of South Australia has come up with an ingenious way to continue the learning – three-dimensional printed feet, complete with calluses, corns and fake toenails.

Podiatry students at the university can practise and fine-tune their skills from home, ensuring they attain the required practical experience throughout the lockdown.

Students must achieve a minimum of 1000 hours of clinical practice over their degree in order to graduate on time, an issue that’s causing much concern for many universities as they grapple to compensate for face-to-face clinical practice.

Created and introduced in a world-first podiatry training initiative last year, the foot models are part of a podiatry kit that has been sent to all UniSA’s second-year podiatry students.

Leading podiatry expert and lecturer, UniSA’s Dr Helen Banwell, says the podiatry kit delivers unique and realistic training experiences for students, to ensure they complete their degree within the allocated time.

“Clinical placements are one of the most critical learning aspects across all allied health degrees because they allow students to gain hands-on, practical experience. Yet, with social distancing, this is made so much harder, and many universities are finding it impossible to supplement this aspect of the degree,” Dr Banwell says.

“UniSA is in a unique position … because our team’s forward thinking and creativity to conceive the 3D-printed feet as a teaching tool has really enabled us to adapt to these unforeseen circumstances.

“By providing our students with their own podiatry kit – which not only contains the 3D-printed foot, but also a variety of dressings, paddings, and disposable scalpels and instruments – we will be able to teach key podiatry skills remotely, to ensure that every one of our students is afforded the opportunity to finish their degree within the four years.”

The rise in diabetic-foot disease has created a big demand for trained podiatrists, says Dr Banwell.

“More than 80 per cent of diabetes-related amputations are preventable with best practice treatment and ongoing management,” she says, “but it’s only through first-class training and practice … that we can hope to change this.

“Using the podiatry kit, and online teaching tools, students will be able to assess, plan and practise treatment of a range of foot conditions. Plus, as they’ll be using their own set of tools, we’ll be able to show them how to prepare for sterilisation.

“Who would have thought that one day I’d be ordering 500 fake toenails? But when times are tough, you really need to think creatively in order to get through.”

Have you come across other innovative ways to keep activities going during the lockdown? Do you suffer from foot problems?

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