Interview with Dr. Birdwell

Where were you practicing before your position here at TUSPM?

  1. I was at the Foot and Ankle Specialists of Bucks Country which is a private practice. I was also affiliated with Jefferson Health Northeast as well as St. Mary’s Medical Center. I was doing full-scope surgical consulting at both of those hospitals. I was working with the residents and the Jefferson Health Northeast residency program and academics as well.


What was your education like prior to podiatry school?

  1. Before podiatry school, I graduated in 2009 with my BA from Rutgers in General Science so I knew I wanted to go into medicine which helped me find my pathway. Eventually, I worked in the medical field at the Red Cross for a while, leading me down the path to podiatry.  There was a facility not too far from Temple Podiatry so I made my way down here, shadowed under Dr. Newman at the time, saw the full scope of practice, and realized everything that podiatrists could do which cemented my decision to go into the field of podiatry.


What positions are you taking over here?

  1. I am an Assistant Clinical Professor in the department of surgery filling in the role from recent faculty who left or retired. I will be teaching, seeing patients in our clinic, and treating patients in Temple’s hospital system and residency program. For classes, I am co-director with Dr. Sansoti for OR protocol so that course will eventually transition to me as I continue the onboarding process. I will be guest lecturing in other surgical courses, for clubs, and facilitating other academic opportunities.


What are you looking forward to bringing to the school?

  1. I want to bring my energy and compassion for patients and my experience through my training at Penn and my first few years of clinical practice. I have gotten to see a lot of patients and seen a lot of pathology, so bringing my teaching style and my knowledge to the students can really help them grow. Helping the students learn and helping them figure out what their career goals are is important to me.


Do you have a favorite part or area of podiatry?

  1. Overall, I like surgery, but particularly reconstructive surgery and sports injuries have been where I have focused the most — but honestly, all aspects of surgery. It’s very rewarding to give someone increased function and help their pain when conservative measures fail to provide relief for them.


What ended up making you choose podiatric medicine?

  1. My experience at the American Red Cross was less hands-on interaction with patients and working with doctors focusing on transfusion medicine. While exploring different medical specialties, I knew I wanted to a specialty that would allow me to fast-track for surgery. I’ve always enjoyed working with my hands and solving structural and mechanical problems, so combining that with my passion to help people in pain, podiatry really seemed to bring the two together best. I’ve had family members with foot and ankle problems, so I knew how important the field was especially with an aging population. Ultimately, it was my experience here at Temple when I shadowed under Dr. Newman and in the department of surgery that helped me make this decision.


What was your favorite part of school?

  1. My favorite part of school was going to the WestPoint Military Academy, performing biomechanical exams, fitting cadets for boots to prevent foot injuries, and doing research which was a very cool experience. I also liked spending time with my friends and taking study breaks. You obviously have to study hard but taking breaks and forming connections and good relationships with people is very important.


What is your proudest accomplishment in your career?

  1. There was a young Veteran who had multiple ankle injuries and was suffering from ankle instability. He was having a hard time walking and playing sports. He was also caring for his father who had cancer, he unfortunately passed but the Veteran finally took the time to get his ankle fixed. I did a reconstructive surgery for him, got him moving and feeling better. It helped him move on with his life with a bit more ease. Being able to give back to someone who fought for our country and being able to get him mobile again was rewarding. I went into podiatry to be able to help people keep moving and help them when they are struggling with functional mobility.


Do you have any advice for prospective students of podiatry?

  1. This is a rewarding career, and you have a lot of flexibility in determining how you want to practice and subspecialize within the field. There is also flexibility in the clinical setting in which you wish to practice, and these options are growing. It’s also demanding so you really want to make sure this is right for you. You will need to be dedicated to the demands and rigors of a medical education. If this career is what you decide to do, you’ll get a lot of reward for it. It is definitely a hidden gem in medicine. You’ll see people practicing in their 80’s and beyond. I would make sure you take the time to shadow a podiatrist to help ensure its right for you.


What are the opportunities and rewards of your position here?

  1. There are a lot of opportunities to get back into academia and research. This is challenging in private practice since you are busy seeing a lot of patients, without time or resources built into the practice to do this. It will be rewarding to contribute to the advancement of our field and help produce better evidence-based medicine to help people who are suffering from foot and ankle pathology.


What are you looking forward to in the future and do you have any goals for the upcoming year?

  1. My goals start with getting a few research projects underway and further develop the curriculum of the courses I am teaching. I am looking forward to really becoming part of the team and the family here. I want to be an integral part of the school here with the student and resident education and help ensure TUSPM continues to remain a leader podiatric education and advancement.


Do you have any advice for students just starting to work with patients in the clinic?

  1. It’s a good opportunity to really ask questions and develop the doctor/patient relationship. Learning how to really interact with people by taking what you have learned in your studies and applying that to each patient encounter. Use your attendings as a resource and if you have any questions, definitely ask. Learn and take in as much as you can. Every patient is a new opportunity to learn something new and then to further apply skills you’ve learned throughout your preclinical science training and your surgical course training. Work hard and do your best to get the most you can out of each patient interaction.


Anything you want to add?

  1. Non career accomplishment, my favorite accomplishment is being the father of 2 young children. Family is very important to me, and it is very easy (especially for students) to get bogged down in trying to get all the information in and study non-stop. While these are all important things, you also need to make sure you carve out time to spend with your family and friends. The balance keeps you sane and lets you recharge so that you can continue on this path of lifelong learning and growth.