Tracy Harris, CPed, is probably not what most patients expect to see
when their doctor sends them to a board-certified pedorthist.
“I’m used to the looks I sometimes get,” the 31-year-old
St. Louis certified pedorthist said with a smile. “There aren’t that
many young females in pedorthics. But after you work with patients, they learn
to judge you not on what you look like but on what you know and what you can do
to help them.”
|Tracy Harris, CPed, uses her cell
phone camera to show patients their foot problems.
|Images: Craig B, O&P Business
A Georgia native, Harris is a staff pedorthist at the National Pedorthic
Services branch facility in the historic old Mississippi River city dubbed
“Gateway to the West.”
Harris moved to St. Louis from nearby Washington, DC, where her family
settled when she was in junior high. Harris broke into the shoe business after
Her first boss was Randy Brown, CPed He owns Washington-based
Brown’s Enterprises. The firm includes New Balance concept stores in St.
Louis, Kansas City and Branson, Mo., and in Fairview Heights, Ill.
Harris was 24 years old when Brown promoted her to manage his Kansas
City store. She was also a store boss in St. Louis. “Most people tend to
think of a shoe store manager as an older male,” she said.
Harris said she said still appreciates what Brown taught her. “I
spent 11 years in retailing, and I learned a lot from him.”
But she said she is very happy in a clinical setting. She is even
considering continuing her education and becoming a combination certified
Pedorthist and board-certified orthotist like her boss.
Erick Janisse, CPed, CO, runs the St. Louis branch of National Pedorthic
Services. Headquartered in Milwaukee, NPS is a nationwide network of full
service pedorthic facilities founded by Erick’s father, Dennis Janisse, a
The St. Louis facility is in a busy strip shopping center. From the
outside, it looks like a shoe boutique.
“People sometimes think we’re a retail shoe store,”
Harris said. “Then they come in and see the shoes.”
Style vs. sensibility
NPS stocks “sensible” shoes. But Harris said many therapeutic
footwear manufacturers are designing shoes that are stylish as well as
|Her experience in both clinical
and retail areas makes Harris sympathetic to patient complaints.
“They understand that if shoes are really unattractive, some people
won’t wear them, no matter what.”
Even so, a few of Harris’ patients balk at sensible shoes. She
recalled, “A woman in her 90s came in with her daughter. She had been
wearing whatever shoes she wanted all of her life.”
The woman’s daughter tried to help Harris coax her into
footwear. She was unmoved. “She said her feet hurt but still
wasn’t going to wear the shoes I recommended.”
Harris said having to surrender fashion footwear for sensible shoes is
another freedom lost on many elderly people. “But life is a series of
choices about what we do to our bodies. If you chose to wear ill-fitting shoes,
you may pay for it in the end.”
Getting patients out of uncomfortable shoes sometimes calls for
compromise, Harris explained.
“When they tell me there is no way they are going to wear an
orthopedic shoe as their everyday shoe, I say, ‘Okay, wear the good shoes
as much as possible.’ But I also tell them if they want to get rid of the
foot pain that brought them to me, they are going to have to wear the better
shoes. I’ll tell them if they wear the ill-fitting shoes all day one day,
their feet are going to hurt again the next day.”
Here to help
A few patients spurn Harris’ advice. They end up parking their
comfortable shoes in the closet, then return to Harris complaining that their
feet do not feel any better.
“I ask them, ‘Have you worn your shoes or orthotics every day
or at least almost every day?’”
The reply, according to Harris, is usually a sheepish “no.”
“We can help people much better if they are willing to help
themselves,” Harris said.
Nonetheless, that help doesn’t mean chiding non-compliant patients.
She said a pedorthist’s job is to help, not hassle.
“A big part of this is bedside manner,” she said. “People
come to you in pain. You have to be sympathetic.
“From my retail side, I learned that you have to take care of your
customers. That has helped me understand that on this side you have got to take
care of your patients. I have to be there for them.”
Almost all of Harris’ patients are doctor referrals, mostly from
orthopedic surgeons. “But we do see quite a few patients with diabetes. We
really have to stress to them that proper footwear can prevent limb loss.”
Like most clinical pedorthists, Harris sees most patients by
appointment. Walk-ins are welcome, if not solicited.
“It can get hectic when people just show up. But we have never
turned anybody away since I have been here.”
Hiding the size
All patients get professional, unhurried, one-one-one attention uncommon
in retail shoe stores.
“Sometimes, in a retail setting, you have to give customers what
they want, despite what may actually be best for them. In a clinical setting,
you have to give them what they need.”
Often, that starts with a larger shoe. “A patient says, ‘Oh,
I’ve worn a size six, say, since high school. Then you measure them an
Harris doesn’t discuss size until she has the new footwear on the
patient’s feet. “When I bring out the shoes, I turn the boxes around
so they won’t see the size and the brand. I tell them the size after they
try on the shoes and say they feel good.”
She added, “When they say they’ve worn the same size since
high school, I point out that every other part of their body has changed size
or shape. So why shouldn’t feet change, too?”
She said it is easier getting customers in a larger size in a clinical
setting than in a retail shoe store.
“People come to us because they’ve tried everything else
— new shoes, over-the-counter inserts — and their feet still hurt.
They want relief.”
Harris said providing relief is the best part of her job.
“It’s great when you can help them — when they tear up and want
to hug you and, when they come back, want to see you personally.
“I know I must be doing something right when they ask for me.
They’re not coming back just to chat with me.”