To faculty in DMU’s College of Podiatric Medicine and Surgery (CPMS) and on-campus Foot and Ankle Clinic, “lifelong learning” is not an empty phrase. It’s what they practice and emphasize among their students.
A recent example is an advanced surgical course attended by Associate Professor John Bennett, D.P.M., FACFAS, and Assistant Professor Collin Pehde, D.P.M., FACFAS. Hosted by the medical technology company Integra LifeSciences, the course focused on limb salvage and soft tissue reconstruction.
“At a basic level, that involves moving soft tissue surgically from one area of the body to another,” Bennett says. “For example, for a patient with a complex wound, healing by itself would take so long that there would be a high risk of infection. We want to help that patient avoid infection and possible amputation.”
Treatment for such patients can involve skin flaps and grafts – techniques that have been used for years – along with fitting the lower extremity into a frame, a relatively new technique. The frame stabilizes the healing limb while allowing the patient to stay active.
“We all want to get more surgical training that achieves better patient outcomes,” Bennett says. “We also try to make sure we incorporate some of these techniques in lectures so that our students are exposed to them.”
Pehde says the podiatric physicians of DMU’s Foot and Ankle Clinic already had been using framing techniques, so the surgical course was “confirmation” of the approach. “The need for this treatment is growing,” he says.
That’s due in part because of the increased incidence of diabetes, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates affects 30.3 million Americans. Diabetic patients are susceptible to limb-threatening wounds. Their high blood sugar levels and poor circulation slow down healing and can cause neuropathy, which causes numbness in the hands and feet. One result is that diabetic patients may be unable to feel wounds when they occur. Those wounds can quickly turn into ulcers that, if untreated, can require limb amputation.
“The ramifications of diabetes can be a rude awakening for patients. We do a lot of patient counseling,” Pehde says. “Potentially losing a limb represents a loss of control and not being able to do the things you want to do.”
Enhanced and advanced surgical techniques, such as those covered in the course he and Bennett attended, can equip podiatric physicians to help patients not only avoid amputation, but also to remain functional. Contributing to that goal, the faculty members agree, is the type of collaboration they have at DMU.
“We’re always learning from each other,” Pehde says. “We collaborate with our anatomy faculty in reviewing cases. And in the Foot and Ankle Clinic, we all work together in providing care to patients who need nail care to those who need complex surgery. It’s a true team effort.”