What was your journey like going from school and ending up where you are now in practice and on television?
Hi, I'm Sarah, for those of you who I haven't met yet. I am in practice in New Jersey, the lovely state of New Jersey. I own my own private practice, and I started first in Miami where I went to medical school. I transitioned up here to Hoboken where I trained for my residency. I went to a fellowship in Chicago and I got recruited back to New Jersey which I now call home.
I got into the field of foot and ankle. Nobody, you know, wakes up one day and she's like I’m going to be a podiatrist. Maybe somebody did but it wasn't me. I wanted to be a ballerina or a Rockette and I wasn't tall enough and I really wasn't that good at ballet so my next best thing was to take care of ballerinas and that's why I got into foot and ankle.
I like what I do. I think it's incredible because not only do I treat my little ballerinas I volunteer at the little studio around the corner from my office, but I think it's cool that you kind of transition throughout a little bit of everything – trauma, reconstruction, bunions, all the fun stuff.
How did I get on tv? So, going back to Hoboken, I met this lovely human named Brad. Brad was my senior resident. We weren't best friends in residency. It was a tough time but we got great training and we came out and we became best friends and he got taken on to a show called Titan Games where he had more exposure. And then TLC reached out to him and asked him to be a physician on My Feet are Killing Me and he asked me to come on and help him in surgery. I did, and then season two they asked me to be the third doctor, and who says no to TLC? To this day I’m still the same doctor I was five years ago. I just have a fancy billboard in the front of my office.
How has social media impacted our professional life and the industry?
Social media has definitely taken a turn in medicine. I feel like that's for all professions, not even just for podiatry or just isolated to me. I feel like you have students on there, now you have residents, you have attendings on there, and you have people that are interested in the field of medicine, so social media has just taken a whole turn for what it means to be visible now. My visibility alludes me. To taking lots of selfies through the day, in the patient rooms, that's a lot of ‘oh my gosh I saw you on TV, do you mind if we take a selfie?’ So there's a lot of that throughout my day which I never had prior but there than that I still do the same surgery I did before and just a lot more selfies.
What advice can you give to other DPMs that aren’t sure how to break out of their shells?
That's the secret to life, it seems like right now, the secret sauce of every marketing firm in the world. I remember when I started mine I started mine in January of 2020, the perfect year, and I remember when I first put my video up. I’d actually taken the video that was done by the producer at TLC, and I was like how, you know, me doing the slate for the first time. I thought it was a kind of a cool introduction just in the sense of ‘you know what? I don't know what to do in front of a camera.’ I’ve only done surgery and never been filmed during it. I’ve never done anything on social media besides post pictures of my dog and like me hanging out on a cool vacation. I think getting comfortable in front of the camera was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done but once you supersede that those first like probably 10 posts where nobody likes them, nobody comments on it, and you're like ‘Mom, comment on my post’, it gets it gets better. After that people start to know you in the community. If you start to comment on other people's posts that's what generates interest. I think that's the key that I found. Remember when it was you go on [social media] and you just ‘like’ people's posts but you really have to comment, really engage. I think that's the biggest step to branching out to social media.
I think in order to create – I want that authentic post. I don't want myself to get lost in translation and just be like this bot on the internet or just some random human that's like ‘oh yeah, I love feet.’ No, I really want it to be authentic. I wanted to maintain my identity which
sounds so cheesy but it's like people may not know me but at least they know how I portray my real self and that's what they see.
[My patients] like to post like their recovery. They're like, ‘oh I’m icing, check out my story’ and I'll get tagged in that which is kind of cute or they'll tag me in their beach pic and they're like ‘now I’m pain free on the beach’ and that's my favorite. Or the lady who tagged me the other day. She was at her son's wedding and she was like, ‘I wore three inch heels’ and she did a little dance and little twirl that was really cool. That's my favorite part of the social media but a lot of it, I think, is just people in my own profession, especially the younger generation. I already work with the residents and I think people coming up in the profession want to see somebody that looks like you, want to see a woman on a platform. That's not necessarily the standard, which is kind of neat that I can do that, because I didn't have that coming through.
Has social media made a difference in your practice?
I think it is the best resource that I’ve ever had. It's free marketing. It's free as far as you don't pay for it but you pay in time, you have to pay. There's, you know, you have a 30 minute window [to post] or you can't ghost your phone. You have to be attached to it. Learning the algorithms – I never thought I would spend hours trying to learn. It’s bonkers so in that regard it's definitely time consuming but I think in the long run I see probably anywhere from eight to twelve new patients a day. That's a lot for a small private practice. It's a pretty, boutique, private practice but it's always been like that and I think the growth is exponential and I think it's all due to social media and just publicity.
What is your vision for the future of podiatry?
I started podiatry a long long time ago, it feels like, but look at my mentors and the guys that really started and impacted the field going from like just trimming toenails and doing calluses to when they first started doing surgery in Michigan, putting these patients in the hospital to do bunion surgery and not even using screw They were using k-wires at one point in time. To learn from some of those guys and now to even still see one of my mentors – I see him every year in an annual fellows retreat -- and just to see and hear his stories, how he didn't actually have an oscillating saw, he actually had an actual jiggly saw which is pretty crazy. Just the transition of learning from the people that I learned from to transitioning it to where I came out and to what I’m doing now, I just think it's a revelation.
One of the guys that took a spot at my current practice [read a] publication that came out and it was like, Why Would Anyone Want to be a Podiatrist? And he came back and he said, ‘why wouldn't you want to be a podiatrist? People walk in and they walk out pain-free. You get to do a variety of things, whether you like dermatology, whether you like just seeing people in the office for routine plantar fasciitis, whether you do a reconstructive program, whether I’m treating the [trimalleolar fracture] that walked into my office earlier or the neglected Achilles that has been walking around for two months. It's such a cool profession. Obviously I like what I do. I train with residents. I run a residency program. I hope to become assistant residency director in the next six months which is pretty exciting. It'll be a big transition for me as far as that's something I’ve always wanted to do. I’ve always wanted to train and be involved in more research and academic stuff. Just because you have the access to it, so I just see myself getting further and further involved. I really want to lecture, get back on the podium how I used to do in fellowship. It kind of falls off when you first get into private practice because you get busy.
I use [PowerStep orthotics] because I believe in them. I think that's the easiest way to just translate what I do on a day-to-day basis into patient care.
How do young physicans find their path? What opportunities should they take?
I’ve been in the business for five years which is kind of crazy. You come out of fellowship and you're like, oh I’m going to do all this crazy reconstruction and all this crazy surgery and then you realize people come in [with] heel pain. I’m like, ‘yes, everyone has heel pain but you don't have to have heel pain; all you do is this,’ and then you're done. You think [when] you go through school you're going to get trained on everything, I’m going to do everything, and then you realize you can’t do everything but you create a little niche for yourself whether you know it or not.
I think I got on call at every hospital I possibly could because the more calls you take the more variety of patients that you're going to get and I think that's really helped kind of narrow down what I wanted to do in my practice. Yes, the tv show has helped tremendously, added a plethora of different things to my office. I see cases that I only read about in textbooks so yeah, tv helps, I’m not going to lie.
The importance of networking and connections
At the same time I think it's just getting yourself out there, getting involved in all the societies like NJPMS local here in new jersey, and being a part of that you get to see some of the older physicians that have been around for a while and they may not be doing a lot of surgery anymore so that's how I get a lot of my referrals now from other podiatrists which is a pretty humbling experience. I think I’ve learned that just putting yourself out there, meeting people is probably the most imperative thing that you do in any profession. It doesn't matter if you’re podiatry, if you’re dentistry, if you're in nursing, the more people you know the better off you are. It's kind of crazy because you meet a lot of people along the way and ironically Hoboken has been pretty awesome in general, just because I met Brad there, I met my husband there. It's kind of weird we all know each other. It's bizarre but we all created this relationship out of our network of people. My senior senior resident, her name is Shital Sharma, started BoardsBlast and it's an all-female leadership group to help the residents pass their boards, and I think that's pretty awesome because boards are hard, they're challenging, they're miserable, to tell you the truth. It's really cool to see four women step up to try and change the face of the daunting task of passing your boards.
One of those my schoolmates from Barry back in 2009, we collaborated; we just joined
businesses which is pretty crazy. We've known each other for a lot of years so we work together now which is cool and even the guy that I first shadowed (when I first came out and decided I want to be in podiatry) I still text him when I go back home to Carolina especially, and I’m using his office protocols in my office for efficiency because I learned so much from that man. Iconic. Iconic. So it's truly captivating how much you can learn from people early on and it sticks with you your entire life.
How has “My Feet are Killing Me” impacted the profession?
Social media can captivate into that kind of an audience and that's what's so crazy. I think, not to bring back the show into it, but I think the fact that the show has brought in essentially every part of America that you could imagine. My grandmother watches the show and she was like, ‘oh my gosh, I didn't know this about feet’ and she is this lovely lady who's diabetic. She's 92 years old. [We’re] getting education to the population across the nation and that has driven [patient volume.] I talk to my friends who are practicing, whether they're here or in California or not. I’ve definitely seen an increase in private practice as far as people coming in because the show has driven people into their office to ask about their problem which I think is amazing because it's only the more knowledge you have the more power you have.
One piece of advice for finding your place
A lot of the residents that I’m with now they want to go into private practice but they want to work for somebody and be an associate. A lot of people don't want to be a partner because it comes with a lot of responsibility, and there are some that just want to go into private practice and just work for a multi-specialty group so you constantly have a feeding. I think that evolves over time as well because I didn't know I wanted to be in private practice until fellowship and
then that's when it sealed the deal for me.
More exposure. If you're like a resident or a student watching this go out and rotate and see all elements of private practice, see a big special multi-specialty, see an orthopedic group, see a small podiatry practice. Something will fit. You just don't know what yet.