Future of medicine combines naturopathy and conventional methods

Dr Tobey-Ann Pinder with Catherine Smith and Natalie Cook

At Torrens University Australia, mixing with world leaders in contemporary integrative and naturopathic medicine is fulfilling our commitment to providing current, industry immersive and global curriculum for our students.

Catherine Smith, Program Director, Naturopathy & Western Herbal Medicine, and Natalie Cook, Director of Innovation, Industry & Employability, Health & Education, recently attended several events in Europe. The first event was the World Naturopathic Federation (WNF) General Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland (13-15 September).

The biennial conference rotates through the World Health Organisation world regions with Australia hosting the last face-to-face event in 2019 at our Torrens University Australia Southern School of Natural Therapies Fitzroy campus in Melbourne. The WNF General Assembly shared insights on best practices in naturopathic education and research with delegates from naturopathic organisations, peak professional bodies, and educators from across the globe.

The pair followed the General Assembly by attending the 1st Swiss International Conference on Naturopathic Research in Lausanne, Switzerland (16-17 September). The theme of the conference was on evaluation of personal constitution – from roots to research. Natalie also attended the 2nd World Congress on Integrative Medicine and Health in Rome (20-23 September).

WNF General Assembly

WNF General Assembly: Australian delegates Jon Wardle, SCU; Catherine Smith (TUA); Natalie Cook (TUA), Tobey-Anne Pinder (WNF President); Joanna Harnett (ARONAH); Hope Foley (ARCCIM, UTS); Aime Steel (ARCCIM, UTS); Hannah Boyd (NHAA President).

A World Health Organization(WHO) delegate attended both the Geneva and Rome events to present on the next iteration of the Traditional, Complementary and Integrative Medicine global strategy and reinforced the critical role naturopaths, herbalists, nutritionists and Chinese Medicine practitioners play in global health solutions.

Australia viewed as a leader in quality and standards of education

The WNF General Assembly included a full day dedicated to education presentations and working groups where Torrens University Australia contributed to the global education conversation.

WNF General Assembly Working group

WNF General Assembly Working group: Alioune Diaw (France), Marianna Pontini (Italy), Silivia Polesello (Italy), Catherine Smith (Australia), Aude Veret (France), and Hope Foley (Australia).

“Australia is well regarded globally, so it is crucial that we are part of the conversations. By attending we cement our space as global education leaders, give back to the profession, and discover where our courses need to grow,” said Catherine.

“Our courses originated in 1960, so we have a lot of history in the delivery of our courses. It is important to keep the course curriculum and learning outcomes contemporary and relevant to changing health and practice needs,” said Catherine.

“It was really validating. What I heard, and saw was that Australian education and practice of naturopaths, is amongst the best in the world,” said Natalie.“I came away more invested in and optimistic about the future of the Australian profession.”

“We're making very good clinicians, we know we do,” – Natalie Cook, Director of Innovation, Industry & Employability, Health & Education

“Our courses are leading in terms of our capacity to be engaging and interactive and synchronous,” said Natalie. “It's a very different proposition to what a lot of other educators both in Australia and around the world are talking about.”

Connections were made with schools in Italy, Slovenia and Switzerland and plans were made for our students to collaborate in the future.

“These conversations provide astute opportunities for our students to work collaboratively on the global stage through joint research and class projects, expanding opportunities to be global citizens,’ said Catherine.

Swiss Naturopathic Research Conference

Swiss Naturopathic Research Conference 16 Sept: Anne Gimalac and Ludivine Colas of Centre Andre Henzelin.

The Practice Wellbeing Centre setting Torrens University apart

In 2022, our students facilitated 12,258 face-to-face and telehealth appointments for 8,764 patients at our Practice Wellbeing Centres in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and trending the same way in 2023. Assigning a dollar value to this service lands in the vicinity of more than $1.2 million when compared to a general consult with a qualified professional costing $100.

Services are provided across a range of modalities including naturopathy, nutrition, Western herbal medicine, acupuncture, Chinese medicine, myotherapy, counselling and beauty and dermal therapies. Students are fully supervised by qualified and experienced practitioners.

“Our clinic is outstanding. We have a dedicated space with public-facing clients. We've got a high standard of clinical competency, and it's a very well-established program in three Australian states,” said Catherine.

“If we’re talking about being industry’s university and equipping people for the workforce, this is immersive, real workplace-learning in an academic and highly supervised and safe environment,” said Natalie.

“The number of clients that we see within our student clinic is impressive and demonstrates the demand for the services, especially below-cost community-based services. We are so lucky to be well equipped with body composition analysis scanners that allow students to accurately assess health.”

At the Swiss Research conference, Catherine presented the findings of two multi-centred research projects on how telehealth differs from in-person consultations in terms of effective evaluation of personal constitution.

“Telehealth was initiated during the pandemic, to keep students learning when our face-to-face consultations were not possible. What has resulted is a dramatic shift in the type of services that are offered in naturopathy, and that's reflective of what's happening in community practice,” said Catherine.

The telehealth initiative changed the way Torrens University runs the clinics, and clinical practice.

“Students are developing dual skills that are going to directly future-proof their practice,” said Catherine.

Embracing traditional therapies and medicine for treating chronic diseases

“We've seen the pendulum swing strongly towards science almost to the detriment of embracing some of the more holistic and traditional therapies.”

“I think the pendulum will swing back and embrace naturopathic thinking and care in the areas of prevention, preclinical care, and proactive management of chronic disease,” said Catherine.

“The WHO recognises that most countries use traditional and complementary medicine, and countries need an inclusive approach to create choice in healthcare. COVID has spurred interest in practices that promote wellness, prevent disease and empower people to maintain positive health behaviours.”

Natalie agreed and echoed that the global health system, including Australia, is projected not to be able to meet the demand going forward.

“We are predicted to have a shortfall of nurses, a shortfall of GPs, all of this is already happening, so the current method isn't enough. Compounding that is the fact that we are an aging population living longer, and populations are growing. One of the delegates from WHO said, ‘medicine is medicine,’ and you need the whole suite, including complementary or alternative or integrative.”

“Back in the early 1900s we were dying of infectious diseases, but because all the advantages of science, now we don’t. We certainly don't want to shy away from needing to have a biomedical approach to the way we teach, and we need to be able to speak to the medical profession in a language that is uniform and universally accepted,” said Natalie.

“The reality is we've eradicated, COVID notwithstanding, so many of those infectious diseases at least in the Western world, but we're dying from other things now,” said Natalie.

“The top 10 causes of death are priority health areas that the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare quantifies, and they're all largely preventable.

“It's cardiovascular disease, diabetes, mental health. That's the really strong point of naturopathy and other natural therapies – we can help address these issues – at the pre-clinical stage - before they become red light flashing emergencies,” said Natalie.

The takeaway from the conference circuit was that natural therapies have a place alongside bio-medicine, especially as the global population grows and average life expectancy increases, because the health system, as it is, cannot, and will not cope.

“There is value in all systems of healthcare and the goal is to work towards integrative health solutions that provide choice and improved health outcomes for individuals,” said Catherine.

Hero image: Catherine Smith, Dr Tobey-Ann Pinder (WNF President) and Natalie Cook

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