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A Conversation with Dr. Stephanie Wu

A dedicated podiatric physician, researcher and educator, Dean Stephanie Wu, DPM, MSc, FACFAS, is widely recognized for her research in limb preservation and the treatment of diabetic wounds. Dr. Wu, who arrived at RFU in 2004, is the director of the university’s innovative Center for Lower Extremity Ambulatory Research (CLEAR). She also serves as professor in the Department of Podiatric Surgery and Applied Biomechanics and the Center for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine.

How do SCPM students learn the art of caring?

The art of caring plays such an important role in health care and I’m proud to be at an institution, led by President Rheault, that strongly emphasizes that. We dedicate our lives to becoming professionals in health care because we care, but we all need to learn the skills of caring. My students see some really difficult cases in clinic, including patients who are facing amputation. They were really moved by a man who presented with a diabetic wound and who was unaware that his calcaneus, the heel bone, was gone — reabsorbed due to a disease called Charcot. He brought in 760 pages of medical records. Labs had been ordered, but no one stopped to carefully look at his situation or to communicate his condition. We plotted the progression of his disease on a graph, put the X-rays together and created a timeline of his treatments to help him understand what had happened. The art of caring includes taking the time to explain the pathology to the patient and exploring treatment options. As part of student teaching, we take the time to analyze the data to better understand the disease progression. This understanding allows us to appropriate the best treatment plan for our patients. Our students learn and our patients learn with our students. Many of our patients are proud to be involved in the growth of our students.

What differentiates podiatric medical education at SCPM?

We are the only podiatric medical school that offers an NIH-funded summer research program. Interprofessional learning and simulation are also important opportunities at SCPM. Our students learn in clinic with allopathic medical students and they participate in simulated foot surgeries with nurse anesthesia students. They learn about anesthesia from DNP students studying nurse anesthesia who are administering it and the DNP students learn about foot surgery from our students. There’s a comfort level with asking questions. There’s lots of discussion. You don’t get that even in a residency training environment. It’s a very innovative teaching and research environment.

Do you plan to continue your teaching and research, in addition to your deanship?

I still conduct research studies and I still see patients at the clinic. I love the student interactions, having the students physically work with me and the real-time clinical learning that takes place when we are treating patients. I love when we’re able to incorporate into patient care our research and the newest modalities, for example, using 3D models of bone; we can print out a specific bone in titanium and insert it. That’s very cool, very cutting edge and a new means of healing that offers hope for our patients.

How do you balance your many responsibilities and still find joy in your work?

Balance is important. I definitely take time off to be with family and travel. I also get so much joy out of seeing students grow and learn. It’s the same with research, helping students to develop their own research ideas and critical thinking abilities. I work hard, but at the end of the day I’m also elated when a student says, “Thank you, Dr. Wu. I learned a lot today,” or “You made me think of something I never thought about before.” That’s what drives me. That’s where I find the joy.

Posted November 27
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