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Naturopathy to Naturopathic Medicine: An International Perspective

Written by Dr. Seroya Crouch

I recently took a position as dean of a large for-profit college of natural medicine in Australia that has campuses in six cities. At eight weeks in, I am still learning about a different educational system, an endless number of acronyms for government and professional bodies, and most of all adjusting to naturopathy being taught as an undergraduate degree with all the limitations of course load (16 credits) and preparedness of students. However, the love of the profession is familiar and it inspires many students and practitioners to excellence and lifelong dedication.
 
I am also finding myself in a different milieu than North America in terms of the vision of naturopathy, as it is universally called down under. While naturopathic practitioners are highly visible and are reimbursed by most private health insurance, the profession is in disarray. According to senior practitioners, the educational programs used to be more “naturopathic,” incorporating philosophy, principles and a variety of modalities.
 
In the past decade, fuelled by government support of tuition, private education providers have proliferated—often “mum and dad” businesses with little real understanding of the practice. For a country of 22 million people, the educational sector is massively oversupplied with a whole range of programs on offer: a total of no less than 16 three-year vocational training programs, and six colleges or universities that offer three- or four-year Bachelor degrees.
 
Complicating this picture is a plethora of professional associations competing for members and credentialing for insurance reimbursement. Some associations have a combination of types of practitioners, while others sound like they might be an herbal association, but are composed of more than 80% naturopaths. The associations specify whether the program from which a student graduated is accepted as a qualification for membership. So colleges are navigating the differing requirements of various associations to ensure that their students can get insurance reimbursement upon graduation.
 
The government is moving towards national registration of health professions with chiropractic, osteopathy, and Chinese medicine being among the first cohort in the next year or so. Naturopathy will likely follow suit in the next 5-10 years. In Australia, registration is the standard for all health-care professions including conventional medicine. New registration boards will set national standards, which will both simplify accreditation of programs and raise the standards of education.
 
The undergraduate model of medical education is common throughout the world (known as the “Commonwealth system”) with the notable exception of North America. It is starting to change in Australia, though, with some medical schools now requiring a bachelor’s degree before entrance, while others simply lengthen their degree to seven years. There is a possibility of introducing comparable graduate education in naturopathy in the future. Coupled with reclaiming orphaned modalities, this could turn the tide from dispersion to increased cohesion and professionalization; in other words, a sea change from naturopathy to naturopathic medicine.
 
Dr. Seroya Crouch NCNM’85 was recently appointed Head of School/ Associate Director of Education at the Endeavour College of Natural Health in Australia. She oversees academic departments offering a variety of  practitioner degrees delivered on six campuses nationwide. She is located in Brisbane and can be reached at drseroya.crouch@endeavour.edu.au.

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