Background

Discolored toenails is a common complaint presented to podiatric physicians, dermatologists, and primary-care physicians. Although various local and systemic conditions influence changes in nails, nearly 50% is due to fungal infections. We surveyed the health professions student population to gain insight into how future medical professionals may approach this condition and to explore perceptions of onychomycosis, treatments, and effects on quality of life.

Methods

The primary outcome measure was a self-reported online Google Forms survey developed by the authors and sent to podiatric, allopathic, and osteopathic medical students and nursing students in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Results

Of the 245 respondents, 92% agreed that toenail fungus is both a health and a cosmetic concern. Seventy-seven percent of respondents said “yes” when asked if they would seek treatment, and 67% would wait 1 month to 1 year to see a medical professional. When seeking treatment, 57% reported that they would see a primary-care physician initially, and 27% and 5% would seek care from a podiatric physician or dermatologist, respectively. A total of 91% would spend up to $300 annually for treatment, with only 4% willing to spend more than $500 per year. Respondents' greatest concern would be physical appearance.

Conclusions

Although agreement exists among the health professions students surveyed that toenail fungus presents both a cosmetic and a health concern, inconsistencies regarding time to treatment, treating professional, and effects on quality of life persist. It is not reasonable for all medical professionals to effectively recognize and treat nail disease, but it is paramount that patients are directed to medical professionals who can accurately exclude other conditions to alleviate social and financial burdens patients may face due to onychomycosis.

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