Bendigo Community Health Services is home to more than 50 services and 250 staff. Take a journey through our organisation to learn more about our services and programs by meeting some of our wonderful staff through our blog Discovering BCHS…
NOTE: Emma has been promoted to Director of Children's Health Services and Allied Health since this feature was written.
FUN fact: Bendigo Community Health Services podiatrist Emma Millard is a former Victorian artistic roller skating champion.
In fact, it was her talent for twisting and gliding around the roller rink that prompted her to consult a podiatrist for the first time as a child.
“I had high arches and was having trouble with some of the moves balance-wise, so I went and saw a podiatrist, had some orthotics made and they made a huge difference,” says Emma.
“I still have the same ones now, about 20 years later, and wear them if I play sport.”
The experience didn’t immediately inspire her towards the profession, but it left enough of an impression that when she was considering various health careers at the end of high school, podiatry ended up at the top of her list.
Emma graduated from La Trobe University in Melbourne in 2009, worked in a private practice in Bendigo for just over a year, and was thrilled to join BCHS in February 2011.
“My heart was always in the public health system,” she says. “The patients we see generally have more complex foot problems and their backgrounds are also often more complex.
“Our approach is based on the social model of health where many interacting factors affect someone’s general health, their foot health, and whether or not they follow up on things we ask them to do.
“I have to tailor my approach to ensure the advice and treatment I implement for someone is done with consideration of all those other factors, and is achievable and realistic for them.”
Emma is now firmly entrenched in community health, spending three days a week at the Eaglehawk site tending to adult and high-risk patients needing foot care, and two days a week at Kangaroo Flat assessing and treating children with wide-ranging issues affecting their feet.
“We see a lot of older adults who find it difficult to reach their feet,” she says.
“We work with these patients to assist them with foot care so they can remain active and maintain their mobility and independence.
“We also see a lot of high-risk patients who have trouble with ulcers or amputations.
“Patients with diabetes are more at risk as their blood flow and feeling in their feet can be compromised and they often don’t realise they have a problem like a sore or an ulcer until it’s too late.
“Our role is partly monitoring their feet and helping to work out ways to keep their foot health stable and also educating them how they can look after their feet at home.
“Preventing ulcers and amputations is really important - they represent a huge cost to the health care system but also an even bigger cost to the patient, as their mobility, quality of life, and participation can all be affected.”
Emma’s paediatrics cases include issues like flat feet, toe walking, in-toeing, bow legs and knock knees, foot/leg pain, club feet, metatarsus adductus, positional talipes, digital deformities and gait concerns.
She works closely with physiotherapist Ashlee Lance on more complex cases.
“Lots of different things can cause toe walking and it’s one of the more crucial things we assess in terms of getting it right. It could be idiopathic, meaning we don’t know the cause, but in some cases there can be other underlying conditions such as cerebral palsy, Charcot Marie-Tooth and muscular dystrophy.
“We also see a lot of kids with autism or sensory processing disorders who walk on their toes. The most important thing is that we do a thorough assessment to determine any underlying cause and to ensure we manage it properly.
Her work offers the perfect mix of traditional and challenging podiatry.
“The adult cases are often more predictable, whereas there is more of a challenge with young kids in working out how to get them to do what I need for an assessment.
“You have to be creative and flexible and on your toes the whole time.” No pun intended!
Emma says she loves her job, especially seeing the difference she can make to patients.
“People might come in with a sore foot or toe and we can usually do something immediately to ease their pain so they can walk out the door with a smile on their face, which is very rewarding.
“I see one lady who is a carer for her husband. She wears orthotics and comes in to see me every three weeks and just by keeping her pressure areas under control, she is able to continue caring for him.
“Something so small as seeing her regularly makes such a big difference to both of their lives and their independence and mobility.”
While there is not a lot of professional development in paediatric podiatry, Emma’s interest has seen her take advantage of any opportunities that have presented.
She has spent time at the Royal Children’s Hospital orthopaedic department and clubfoot clinic, as well as receiving support from Melbourne paediatric podiatry specialist Cylie Williams. Emma also completed a Specialist Certificate in Rural Paediatrics through the University of Melbourne in 2014
“It has been a bit like being thrown in the deep end and a real learning curve, but I really enjoy it,” she says of her foray into the world of youngsters with special foot care needs.
BCHS charges patients a small fee for podiatry appointments, which does towards the cost of consumable items like gloves and dressings. There is an extra cost if orthotics or shoe inserts are required.
Individual circumstances are always taken into account when providing treatment and Emma works together with her patients to explore all available options.
In her “spare” time, Emma is completing a Masters of Health Service Management through Monash University, which she hopes will expand her career opportunities.
She is grateful to BCHS and her husband Luke for supporting her with her studies, which take up to 24 hours a week in addition to her full-time job and sees her hitting the books on week nights and weekends.
“It’s all just work and study at the moment,” she laughs, “but I’m really loving it.”