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Open Access Highly Accessed Research

Achieving professional status: Australian podiatrists' perceptions

Alan M Borthwick1*, Susan A Nancarrow2, Wesley Vernon3 and Jeremy Walker3

Author Affiliations

1 School of Health Sciences, University of Southampton, Highfield, Southampton, UK

2 Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Health and Social Care Research, Faculty of Health and Wellbeing, Sheffield Hallam University, Sheffield, UK

3 Department of Podiatry, Sheffield South West Primary Care Trust, Sheffield, UK

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Journal of Foot and Ankle Research 2009, 2:4  doi:10.1186/1757-1146-2-4

Published: 13 February 2009

Abstract

Background

This paper explores the notion of professional status from the perspective of a sample of Australian podiatrists; how it is experienced, what factors are felt to affect it, and how these are considered to influence professional standing within an evolving healthcare system. Underpinning sociological theory is deployed in order to inform and contextualise the study.

Methods

Data were drawn from a series of in-depth semi-structured interviews (n = 21) and focus groups (n = 9) with podiatrists from across four of Australia's eastern states (Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Australian Capital Territory), resulting in a total of 76 participants. Semi-structured interview schedules sought to explore podiatrist perspectives on a range of features related to professional status within podiatry in Australia.

Results

Central to the retention and enhancement of status was felt to be the development of specialist roles and the maintenance of control over key task domains. Key distinctions in private and public sector environments, and in rural and urban settings, were noted and found to reflect differing contexts for status development. Marketing was considered important to image enhancement, as was the cache attached to the status of the universities providing graduate education.

Conclusion

Perceived determinants of professional status broadly matched those identified in the wider sociological literature, most notably credentialism, client status, content and context of work (such as specialisation) and an ideological basis for persuading audiences to acknowledge professional status. In an environment of demographic and workforce change, and the resultant policy demands for healthcare service re-design, enhanced opportunities for specialisation appear evident. Under the current model of professionalism, both role flexibility and uniqueness may prove important.