Face to Face: Jim Downs, CPed

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"You cannot put the same shoe on every foot," said Publilius Syrus, a first century A.D. Latin dramatist and writer of maxims. As a self-taught shoemaker and ABC-certified pedorthist, this is something Jim Downs knows well. His approach to patient care is such that he examines all patients himself and can actually remember each patient's feet as he fabricates his or her custom-made orthoses or shoes—and he can attest that each foot, each patient is different.

1. How did you become involved with the pedorthic profession?

In 1980, I went to work in a family-owned and operated shoe store called Winslow Shoe Company here in Freeport, Illinois. We sold a lot of orthopedic shoes and did work for area doctors. We had a fellow stop in twice a week and pick up the shoe and insert prescriptions—I specifically remember the little white baby shoes and corrective wedges he put in them. This fellow was a shoemaker and had a shop in his house. I worked with him for about two years and eventually bought his shoemaking equipment. I moved the shop to my home for a few years.

2. What has motivated or inspired you in your life and/or professional pursuits?

Before leaving the shoe store, I attended the orthopedic shoe technician program at Ball State University, Muncie, Indiana. I was very new at pedorthics—in fact the profession didn't have a true name at that time. Clyde Edwards and Carl Riecken conducted the program. I was so impressed by their knowledge. Carl spent quite a bit of time with me explaining how things should be done. This inspired me to stay with the trade. I eventually attended additional courses at Ball State for advanced pedorthic management of the foot, and I studied at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and at many other locations. I took the pedorthics exam in 1988.

3. Please describe what your company does.

Downs Shoe & Orthopedic Service offers full pedorthic service, quality shoe repair, and custom-made sandals and shoes. We have a complete pedorthic lab in our shop, specializing in prescriptive shoe modifications and custom orthotics. We have been in business for 23 years.

4. What do you see in the future for pedorthists?

I would like to see all states require licensing for pedorthists. Higher professional standards need to be maintained.

5. What advice would you give to someone just entering the pedorthic profession or starting his or her own business?

Open your business in a prime location. Be willing to work long hours. And keep smiling. Treat all your patients professionally.

Working in a small community can be very rewarding. Not too long ago, a young woman came into the shop and needed the heels fixed on her wedding shoes. She said that I didn't know her, but that I had done work for her in the past—she told me her name and said that I had fit her in ugly, white, orthopedic baby shoes many years ago. I also get to work with people that I have known for years, some of whom remember me as a little boy.