Shaping the Future of Podiatric Surgery: A Profile on Dr. Nicole Bauerly

APMSA Liaisons with Board (2024)
Outgoing APMA Liaison Jeneen Elagha and incoming APMSA liaison Haley Cornelison with the ABFAS Board.

April 17, 2024

By Jeneen Elagha, TUSPM Class of 2024, in conversation with ABFAS President Nicole A. Bauerly, DPM, FACFAS

As the phone rings, Dr. Nicole Bauerly's voice chimes in, vibrant and enthusiastic, despite it being just another Thursday evening at home after work. It's a snapshot of her life, one that reflects the balance she's mastered between her professional achievements and her cherished family moments. Dr. Bauerly, a distinguished podiatric surgeon and administrator, shares her journey navigating the world of medicine as a woman, the pathways to leadership within her profession, and her aspirations for the future.

In a candid conversation, Dr. Bauerly reflects on her experiences as a female surgeon, a realm that was once considered unconventional but is now progressively shifting. "Thanks for the opportunity to share my story with students," she begins. "If you work hard and have perseverance, you can achieve anything. It’s not gonna be handed to you and it’s not easy, but the journey is really fun.

Dr. Bauerly's accolades speak volumes about her commitment to the profession. Aside from being the current President of the American Board of Foot and Ankle Surgery (ABFAS), she also serves as the Senior Director of the Clinics and Specialty Center at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC), holds the esteemed position of Chief of Podiatric Surgery Department at HCMC, serves as the Medical Director for the Center for Wound Healing and Limb Preservation, and is a member of the Minnesota Licensing Board. Her journey to these leadership roles was paved with dedication and early involvement.

"Mindy Benton, a past president of ABFAS, tagged me into leadership roles as soon as I graduated residency and joined staff [at HCMC, where she also completed her podiatric surgical residency]," she shares. "There are ways to get involved early on in our careers… It’s really exciting, especially for our female surgeons, to see us step into administrative positions and continually elevate podiatric medicine and surgery as a profession. From 2007 to now, it’s so exciting to see how far we’ve come and how much more we can and will achieve."

Her involvement in various committees and organizations eventually led her to the presidency of ABFAS, where she became the fourth female president since 1975. "I want ABFAS to continue to uphold the certification standards and process while adapting to a post-COVID health system," she expresses. "We have so much more to gain and more to prove as a profession over the next thirty years."

Dr. Bauerly's passion for mentoring and guiding the next generation of podiatric surgeons is evident throughout the conversation. She emphasizes the importance of early engagement and education, encouraging students and residents to actively participate in clubs, committees, and associations. "Every state is looking for volunteers in some capacity," she notes. "Volunteering for the American College of Foot and Ankle Surgeons and the National Board of Podiatric Medical Examiners is a great way to get your foot in the door nationally and keep working towards board certification."

Reflecting on her own journey to board certification, Dr. Bauerly highlights the significance of preparation and perseverance. "Residency programs provide the In-training Exams (ITEs) to review annually, and you can compare your performance to your cohort and all exam takers," she explains. "We want to provide all the necessary steps along the way to help young surgeons be successful." Again, she credits mentors throughout her career who continually pushed her to log her cases and achieve ABFAS Board Certification in Foot Surgery and Reconstructive Rearfoot/Ankle Surgery. Her advice to aspiring surgeons is simple yet profound: "'‘Should I try for board certification? Should I pursue it?''' Just do it! Logging cases is a habit you build over the years as a resident, and it’s one that is easy to carry on as you enter into practice."

Dr. Bauerly's impact extends beyond the operating room. Her leadership has propelled podiatric medicine and surgery into the spotlight, garnering recognition and respect within the medical community. "Our presence within hospitals is by doing great work and being excellent at what we do," she affirms. In her year as President of ABFAS, she wants to continue to build upon the progress we have made as a profession. She highlights that candidates who undertake examinations to become ABFAS Board Qualified or ABFAS Board Certified often achieve their goals: 76% of the 2023 residency class passed at least one of their Final-year ITEs, which counted towards ABFAS Board Qualification exam requirements, and 83% of candidates who pursue ABFAS Board Certification in Foot Surgery are successful.

One thing that Dr. Bauerly loves about our profession is the variability of practice opportunities. Growth within the realm of podiatric medicine and surgery is continuous, and she believes there is more yet to achieve. “If you want to work in a level one trauma center in a 450-bed hospital, or a multi-specialty group, or a private practice without surgery, you can have that. I don’t know how many medical fields there are where you can shape what you want your specialty to look like the way you can with podiatric surgery,” and that element of our field is something she cherishes and holds as a highlight of our chosen path.

Throughout our conversation, Dr. Bauerly reverts her attention to the ways that students and residents can stay committed to and excited for the professional future that lies ahead. “If you’re a student, enjoy that stage, enjoy friends, celebrate after exams, go to class events and don’t miss out… When I was a student, I was deep in exams and at the time it felt hard, but just like that you graduate and your classmates disperse. Then you dive into residency, and you stay late, work early, read more articles, and you are a sponge absorbing as much knowledge as you can. Then all of a sudden you blink and you’re fifteen years into practice! But there’s time for family and friends and a really great surgical career."

As the conversation draws to a close, Dr. Bauerly's enthusiasm is palpable. "There’s time for family and friends and a really great surgical career," she concludes. "Give back in some way. Volunteer, whether it’s at school or residency or community or hospital. Do something outside of yourself."

In Dr. Nicole Bauerly, we find not just a remarkable surgeon and leader, but a beacon of inspiration for future generations of podiatric surgeons. Her dedication, resilience, and unwavering commitment to excellence serve as a testament to the limitless possibilities within the field of medicine.

This interview appears in the Footnotes publication of the American Podiatric Medical Students' Association. ABFAS extends thanks to APMSA for the opportunity to share the interview here.