Jennifer Ward, Jaclyn Cave and Brooke Schiller were so passionate about complementary medicine, they changed careers. Here, they discuss why the future of the industry is so bright.Senior Learning Facilitator (Naturopathy and Western Herbal Medicine) Ian Breakspear sat down with the experts at Halsa Health to discuss all things about complementary medicine – and how Torrens University Australia put them on the path to success.
A highly experienced educator, clinician and researcher in herbal and naturopathic medicine, Ian has worked in the field since 1993. He treats cardiovascular and chronic inflammatory conditions and diabetes. He’s Chair of the Naturopathic Editorial Board for the Natural Health Science Foundation, Chair of the NHAA Board Member Advisory Committee and a member of Scientific Steering Committee for Boundary Bend Olives.
Where do you work now and what are your areas of expertise?
Jennifer WardI am head naturopath and owner of Halsa Health, which is a studio for women’s health and fertility in Surry Hills. I am currently completing a Master’s in Reproductive Medicine and my areas of specialty are in preconception, pregnancy and postpartum.
Jaclyn CaveI work at Halsa Health as a naturopath. My areas of specialty are women’s fertility, hormonal health, skin, and adrenal health.
Brooke SchillerI work with Jax and Jen at Halsa Health and I’m a naturopath and nutritionist. My focus area is digestive conditions, which I’m really passionate about.
What does your professional journey look like – and how did you end up in complementary medicine?
JenniferMy journey, like most others, wasn’t linear. I started in economics and realised that wasn’t quite my area of expertise and where I wanted to see myself progress. I like to help people and I like to learn and teach. And so I thought, “What would be the intersection between those three areas?” And when I thought of naturopathy, it just made sense to me. I was a healthy person at the time. I was very interested in learning more about health, for me and for the wider population. I enrolled with the attitude of, “I can always stop if it’s not my right path”. And 10 years on, I’m still in the industry and absolutely loving it, learning every day, teaching every day, and having the opportunity to help people every day. It’s one of the best decisions I’ve made, and it’s really shaped the last 10 years of my life.
My journey came about due to a few reasons. To start with, I had my own health issues that I was working through, and if I look back and am entirely honest, they were self-inflicted. I wasn’t living a very healthy lifestyle. I was drinking more than I probably should have, and I was working in finance with a high stress load. I just wasn’t that happy.
I started doing a yoga course and began to learn the connection between the body and health, and how that made me feel. I knew that was an area I was interested in. When I finally moved to Sydney, I found the health industry here is so incredibly vibrant. I heard about naturopathy for the first time, as I didn’t even know it was a course before then. I started studying online part-time while I was still working in finance. After a year of doing that, I was hooked. So, I quit my job and moved on to the campus and the rest is history.
I also had a career originally that was not related at all to health, I was working in the fashion industry at the time.
I was experiencing some digestive issues that just weren’t seeming to be resolved through traditional methods. My friend recommended I see her naturopath, and I saw her, and I was blown away by the resolution of some symptoms that occurred relatively quickly, and not without a bit of work.
But also, how much I didn’t know about my body that I learned through those sessions. As Jen was saying, the role of being a teacher was fascinating through my learning with this naturopath. I remember simmering on that for a couple of years and thinking about my health a lot more than I had in the past. And then I went to a couple of Open Days and enrolled at Torrens University Australia (then ACNT) full-time and worked my job part-time. I did a Bachelor of Health Science in Naturopathy over four years.
What is naturopathy and clinical nutrition – and how do they differ?
BrookeBoth naturopathy and nutrition involve a holistic approach to wellness. It’s a practice that focuses on viewing the person as a whole and finding out what the root cause of that issue is. From there, it’s about using nature as treatment. So that might be lifestyle, it might be herbal medicine, it might be nutrients, or maybe all of them combined, to work towards healing that body from the root cause. A big part of it is educating as you go to cultivate ongoing wellness.
In clinic, the biggest difference between naturopathy & nutrition sessions is that I can’t use herbs for the nutrition only consults. My personal experience of the two modalities is that people who see me for nutrition are more interested in weight loss or wanting to develop a real and deep understanding around food for themselves – their sessions are highly diet orientated.
For naturopathy, often people will have an issue that they’re trying to resolve, such as digestive issues or fatigue, and we’ll work to correct that. I get excited about the fact that as a collective industry, nutrition really has the power to be incredibly preventative for a lot of chronic health conditions. It seems to be becoming more mainstream. I also get excited about the thought that more and more people are learning about how nutrition influences the body and how this can prevent a lot of chronic conditions that exist currently that really don’t need to.
How has the pandemic impacted your work and patients?
It was surprisingly easy to change our business model from face-to-face to online. Now that we are fully online, being in current lockdown, we are starting to get into a groove with that. I think the [initial shock] from patients to jump on Zoom is gone, whereas before they were all, “No, I’d rather see you face-to-face”. Now they absolutely love Zoom and the flexibility of it. They can fit in a meeting in-between their meetings.
So, the pandemic has had a big impact on us personally and professionally, but all in all there are many positives shining through. And by creating new opportunities, for example Australia-wide sessions, we can help people in other states that we wouldn’t have been able to before. It was and has been and still will be challenging, but I think it’s a positive in many ways.
Why do you recommend studying Complementary Medicine at Torrens University?
JenniferThe one thing that comes to mind for me is that it’s jam-packed full of juicy, useful information that you really don’t get many other opportunities to experience and absorb. And when you’re at the clinical practice, you’re doing your own research. I think back fondly on my time as a student and all the great influences I had from the lecturers, and all the great information we had access to. And all the clinic tips that came through the lecturers from their own personal experience being a practitioner – I thought that was unique compared to other studies I completed. We were given a lot of insights in those earlier days through our lecturers. I think it’s a fantastic course and certainly challenging. It covers a lot of areas, from anemone to herbal medicine to clinical practice – it’s very challenging in a positive light.
BrookeThere’s one moment for me that really sticks in my mind as being a turning point for understanding how [naturopathy] was meant to work, which came from one of the lecturers … her knowledge was so inspirational and the way she explained it was like a puzzle fitting together. That was a moment for me that shaped my understanding of what naturopathy was. It’s a puzzle which you fit together to solve a problem. I really loved the way tutoring solidified that for me. That was probably the biggest aha moment from studying which I’ve taken into practice.
What comes to mind for me is one of the first times that I stepped into the dispensary. It puts everything together, because you’ve been learning about these herbs on paper for so long – “What this herb does and what this herb doesn’t” – and being in a room full of the herbs and being able to smell them and sometimes taste them and work with them – for me, this really brought it all together and made it feel real. I could really see the future and how I’d be working with these herbs in different capacities to help people. That was a really great opportunity while studying, to actually have that hands-on experience with the material that we’re learning about every day.
What’s your best advice for students preparing for a career in health?
When I stepped out of college, I started a new practitioner’s meet-up, which was based in Newtown at the time brought together a collection of practitioners who had just graduated. We talked about cases, about our wins and our struggles. That made me really realise how important it was to have connections with other practitioners and have a network around you. And that really fostered some great, long-term relationships.
It’s really important to connect with people and start building these networks. Start building a list of your dream team of naturopaths you want to be associated with and want to mentor with. Contact them, email them and don’t be afraid to do it. Because that is such a big part of our industry – we need to have these networks and this connection as a thread that runs through our profession and practice. That’s the key: connect and network and start that as soon as you can.