Undergraduate podiatry degrees are designed to enable students to become professional podiatrists. To be successful students must manage academic and practical activity to ultimately acquire a professional identity. Little is known about the practices and processes which underpin the acquisition of a professional podiatry identity. It is the aim of this paper to begin to address this absence of knowledge. Community of Practice theory, arguably the dominant contemporary learning theory, represents identity shift as an interaction of imagination, engagement and alignment which enables students to successfully participate in higher education, and ultimately, the professional context. This success is underpinned through assisting students to develop an enabling identity in their learning and doing.
Here we present findings that emerged from a yearlong ethnography in a successful higher education podiatry department. The project followed students and staff in the classroom and the clinic and explored their experiences through interviews.
The findings suggest that the journey to professional identity is facilitated through meaningful learning relationships between staff and students and clarity around professional practices. Here we discuss how those relationships form and enable undergraduates to become podiatrists.
Our findings offer a model for the transition from student to professional and highlight the importance of relationship and experience in becoming a podiatrist. There is a paucity of research around not only podiatry but also other allied health professions around this topic and given the increasing emphasis around employability skills in HE, more research in a range of contexts is needed.