Student Spotlight: Sophia Gerontakos of the National Centre of Naturopathic Medicine

Published 9 September 2020
Sophia Gerontakos PhD candidate NCNM

Can group naturopathic care help patient outcomes with endometriosis? PhD candidate Sophia Gerontakos seeks to find out.

Sophia Gerontakos is a naturopath, herbalist and massage therapist with a multi-level approach to wellness: physical, mental and emotional health. In her practice, Sophia has experience treating a broad array of ailments, but has a special interest in naturopathic medicine and mental health.

Since graduating with a Bachelor of Health Science (Naturopathy) in 2017, Sophia hadn’t originally planned on pursuing a higher degree by research, but she found herself seeking evidence for the effects of herbal medicines called adaptogens on mental health. When she discovered the evidence base was almost non-existent, she decided to pursue this area of research through her Honours degree.

Sophia has commenced the Doctor of Philosophy (Health Science) under the supervision of the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine at Southern Cross University for her project that aims to improve access to naturopathic care through group delivered naturopathic medicine for women with endometriosis.

We asked Sophia about her career as a clinical naturopath and research student, and about her PhD project.

Q. What inspired you to become a naturopath?

Like many others who take this path, it was partly to do with my own healing journey. I have some chronic health issues that I always struggled to manage. Over time I started to realise that there is so much more to healing than just treating symptoms with medications. I found the principles of naturopathy of treating the root cause and holism really resonated with me.

Q. What is your project and how will it have an impact?

The project is about investigating ways to reduce the barriers to access naturopathic care by examining a different model of delivery. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for women with endometriosis to feel their care needs are not met from healthcare providers, so I am investigating how naturopathic medicine delivered in a group setting may help improve their functionality and quality of life.

Naturopathy is much less accessible to the wider public than other health care options, but research shows that naturopaths commonly treat patients with chronic conditions, and women often consult naturopaths for menstrual disorders. Endometriosis is a very common chronic condition amongst Australian women, and I have personally seen good patient outcomes from naturopathic, lifestyle interventions. I hope this research will help naturopathy to become more accessible to the wider community by reducing social and financial barriers and opening pathways to more integration of naturopathy in to healthcare.

Q. Can you explain how the project came about?

The project basically came about from my own observations and experience as a clinical naturopath. I began seeing first-hand the barriers to patients being able to access naturopathic appointments and continuity of care to adequately achieve their health goals. The main barrier I observed was financial, and so it was hard as a practitioner to balance the time I could give to each patient and manage each case with financial sustainability.

In 2019 I started a ‘community clinic’ for 2 hours per week from the private clinic I practice from. Anyone can present without an appointment and see a naturopath (myself) for free. My aim was to explore an alternative to a structured one-on-one consultation. While this is something I am still exploring, I saw that an increased access to naturopathic care generally comes at the cost of the provider. I decided to investigate this model of care further, which is becoming more popular amongst healthcare providers and has performed highly in terms of patient satisfaction.

I developed my project around this group practice model of care in the context of a naturopathic consultation, together with tackling the unmet healthcare needs of women with endometriosis.

Q. How does the group delivery model work?

This model of care moves from a one-on-one consultation to a group visit where multiple patients attend a consultation simultaneously in a group setting. Each patient receives an individualised treatment plan, whilst the group also engages with one another in an educative and supportive environment. While this model has been successful for delivering group medical visits for chronic conditions in Australia and the United States and is becoming more widely used in the US for providing healthcare to underserved communities, to my knowledge no one has examined this model in the context of naturopathic medicine.

It is an interesting option as you still have the benefit of the patient-centred approach of naturopathy with individualised treatment plans, yet you can also create a really safe and supportive space to build a sense of community for people to connect and feel less alone on their health journey – which is deeply embedded in wellbeing.

Q. Who makes up your supervisory team and how do they contribute to your project?

The project is being supervised by Professor Jon Wardle, Associate Professor Matthew Leach and NCNM Adjunct Dr Amie Steel – all are very well-known in the naturopathic and research community and bring their own areas of expertise to the table. It has been such an amazing experience to work with people I have looked up to and followed for years. It’s quite amazing to develop relationships with and work together much more collaboratively than when you are studying at an undergraduate level.

Q. What do you find the most rewarding about research?

It is empowering to be uncovering answers to questions that directly relate to and impact my passion – naturopathic medicine. And not just finding them through other research, but truly discovering new information and supporting growth within the profession.

Media contact: Caitlin Zillman, Marketing and Communications Manager at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine 0424 632 177 or caitlin.zillman@scu.edu.au