Faculty Spotlight: Dr. Steven Pettineo
By: Norah McDonnell. ENG '22
Can you talk about your path to how you got here and why you chose podiatry? How has your experience been thus far?
I was in a private practice with 2 physicians. I worked as a physical therapist, but I have worked with physicians my whole career. In 2008, the therapy portion of the practice was sold. They were looking for someone here to start a clinical physical therapy as well as add some teaching elements and create a student rotation. I informally came here, spoke with the Dean, Rod Jones, Dr. McGuire, and the rest is history- I have been here ever since. I love it here. I was interested in the educational component in teaching and that is what I love the most. The fact that there are students who have high expetations makes you stay on your toes and stay up to date. I have personally benefited because there is a challenge everyday from the educational side and from the clinics. It’s the most fulfilling job that I have ever had.
What was your favorite part of school?
I did not go to podiatry school and I am not a podiatrist. I have my Bachelors and Masters degrees from University of the Sciences, and my Doctorate from Temple in Physical Therapy. I am the only full-time non-podiatrist faculty member here. Treating patients and working with students everyday has taught me that the longer you are out of school, the more you realize whether your education was well-rounded. I definitely think that mine was. As it related to foot and ankle, probably 90% of what I know, I learned here. The other faculty members have been instrumental in every success that I have had because I have learned so much from each of them.
What is your proudest accomplishment so far?
When I became the chair of biomechanics, the Dean was bringing that department back. The department existed 15-20 years prior, then it had been combined with podiatric medicine and he wanted to split the departments again for a variety of reasons, and I think it has been a successful reintegration back into the curriculum to have the department. Since the department has been separated again, we are able to pursue some lessons that are specific to podiatric biomechanics that did not exist prior, specifically we have integrated a detailed instruction on orthotics and orthotic design, which previously seemed less important in the education. Podiatry has become so surgically based and many students want to focus their attention for the residency on the medical and surgery side, that some of the biomechanics, specifically bracing and orthotics, has been pushed to the side. I think along with that, some of the clinical knowledge has also decreased. After seeing and recognizing this trend among our students, we revived the Biomechanics Deparrtment and we have our own space and make our own way. Biomechanics is now a successful and important department in the podiatric education.
What is something you know now and wish you knew or wish someone had told you before regarding podiatry? Do you have any advice for younger or prospective students?
It is very difficult at times to see the big picture, not only in a patient encounter, but also exactly what it means to be trained. Students do this very well, some better than others, to do their best to stay sharp and apply what they know, but also try to pull out some of the information from their classroom professors. As clinicians, we get caught up in some of the day to day demands and take for granted that there is a student next to us, and that there is a potential teaching moment. My students ask me a question, and I often think “Wow, I should have just thought to tell you that.” Sometimes it has to be the student’s responsibility to, in a respectful way, get an explanation, ask a question, sometimes that spark some discussion. In school, there are some things you don’t understand. You learn them, but don’t understand, but then you look back and go “wow, that’s what that meant”. You have your ah-ha moment. There were some things that I just memorized and knew they existed, and then at some point in your career, you will finally understand. I would tell students to hang in there, and the ah-ha moment when you pull it all together eventually does come.
What are the challenges of your position and how have you learned to overcome them?
Especially here, you have to look at challenges through a couple of different angles. There are challenges in the clinic with patient care and with clinical student education, and challenges in the classroom with curriculum, and that is what makes this job unique and exciting. It’s not just an educational experience-there is sometimes a patient involved and the educational component is about patient care and clinical care. A specific challenge for me is that I have to be aware of how students learn and how to integrate that into the classroom. Some of the techniques in teaching that I used 10 years ago are not compatible with the students today, and I have to be willing to change for the better of the student.
What are the rewards and opportunities of your position?
This again has 2 angles: patient care and education. Rewarding experiences are when I can help a patient who has been in pain to not experience that pain anymore. I had a patient who experienced heel pain for 10 years, and we saw her three times, and since she has been pain-free. Along with that, it’s the ability to share that experience with the student. We took an evidence-based approach on managing the patient and it worked, it was a relatively easy fix, and now the patient is happy and smiling. Clinically, it is rewarding when a student recognizes that he enjoyed the class, learned something from me, and is appreciative of the experience. I take pride in good feedback from my students. I have had some unique experiences. In my general orthopedics class, one student came back after his emergency room rotation, and a patient came in with lower-back pain. The patient fit a clinical prediction rule to have a manipulation done. The attending ER physician asked my student what steps they should take to solve the problem, to which my student said the patient needs a manipulation. The doctor was teasing the student and chose a different route for pain management. Afterwards, the attending physician asked why my student thought the patient needed the manipulation, and my student pulled an article that I shared with my class from a reputable journal and gave it to the doctor. The next day, the doctor apologized to my student and said he read the article, discussed it with his colleagues, and understood how the patient fit the model for the manipulation. The student was glowing after that. It’s nice to hear stories from students I have taught before that come back and share their experiences or ask more questions about a certain topic.
What are you looking forward to in the future? Do you have any goals for the upcoming year?
We always have goals for the new year. My goals here are to always try to improve student performance; I would love to see improvements on the Part 2 Boards in biomechanics, and that has been a goal we have had since the inception of the department. Another goal I have is to start doing more formal research and publishing some of the studies that are in IRB right now. Sometimes, research is self-derived and the student can help with the research. Currently, I am guiding a student through the research, so they can see every step throughout the process. This research will be his own piece of work, but my goal is to help him through that. As a chair, my goal is to always put the men and women in the department in a good position to succeed, assist them, and help them achieve their goals, all of which will benefit the department.
Do you have any advice to students first starting to work with patients?
You are going to be nervous and that is okay. Come prepared. One of the hardest things is to learn to be systematic in how you learn how to take your patient’s subjective history and do your examination. By focusing on those two aspects, students will be able to improve their efficiency in the clinic, as well as critique themselves and learning from mistakes. One thing you always hear in school is that 70 percent of coming up with the diagnosis is doing the patient interview, where you’re just talking with the patient before you examine them. I always tell students that one thing they should learn quickly is how to do the physical exam. I am fortunate because I am in an open area and I can watch my students do their examinations. If a patient tells you it hurts in a certain spot, the last thing you want to do is apply pressure or touch that spot first. By being systematic about the examinations, they can step back and reflect once the exam is done, and be more efficient and more successful long term.