Australian first Lifestyle Medicine degree heralds new era for education and care

Published 30 September 2021
A man smiling and wearing a dark shirt Professor John Stevens.

In an exciting milestone for practitioners and preventative health, Southern Cross University has launched a ground-breaking new Master of Lifestyle Medicine degree. This is the only Master of Lifestyle Medicine degree currently offered in Australia and applications are now open for the 2022 intake.

The launch of the new degree comes after the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry (RANZCP) issued new guidelines for the treatment of mood disorders, in which lifestyle interventions form the foundation of mood disorder management. The guidelines describe this approach as ‘essentially non-negotiable’, and now recommend this method as the first line of treatment along with psychological interventions.

A large percentage of chronic disease can be attributed to lifestyle or environmental factors – some of which may not be within an individual’s control— through non-pharmacological interventions. However, assisting individuals to support good health through lifestyle and non-pharmacological approaches remains an ongoing challenge for many health practitioners, with gaps in contemporary clinical education preventing many from confidently providing this care to their patients.

According to the University’s Associate Professor Matthew Leach, the new masters degree will extend practitioners’ knowledge in a different kind of way, helping to enrich their practice, elevate professional standing, and enhance patient outcomes.

“The course assists practitioners to more confidently prescribe lifestyle interventions and facilitate behaviour change in order to support the prevention and management of chronic disease and to improve patient outcomes,” said Professor Leach.

“The degree is taught by leaders in the field and uses an evidence-based approach to examine the principles and practices of lifestyle medicine, including determinants of health, clinical processes and models of care, and strategies and interventions for preventing and managing disease.”  

Man with grey hair and moustache smiling

Professor Garry Egger.

Leading experts were instrumental in the course design and curriculum development, including internationally renowned lifestyle medicine pioneers, Professor Garry Egger and Professor John Stevens. Professors Egger and Stevens specialise in translating research into practice and integrating the most contemporary evidence available into the programs they develop, helping to advance this discipline in more than 33 countries. 

“Lifestyle Medicine is the most progressive movement in healthcare right now. Today, 80% of patient consultations and moments of care are about lifestyle related disorders,” said Professor Stevens.

“On current trends, the future costs of health care related to preventable lifestyle illness is not sustainable by any government throughout the world. Integrating Lifestyle Medicine into existing practice provides exciting opportunities for clinicians, researchers and teachers who want to develop new knowledge and skills to become part of the solution.”  

An important component of the degree will be the incorporation of a capstone research project supervised by leading researchers in Lifestyle Medicine which will enable students to investigate an area of interest in depth and contribute knowledge to this important aspect of healthcare field.

“In addition to facilitating change and improving care of their patients, our students are also actively contributing to the Lifestyle Medicine evidence,” said senior lecturer and course coordinator, Dr Andrea Bugarcic.

The degree is designed for experienced health practitioners working in general medicine, allied health, nursing or other health disciplines, who wish to develop skills and knowledge in the specialised field of lifestyle medicine.

The course aligns with competencies of the International Board of Lifestyle Medicine and the Australasian Society of Lifestyle Medicine (ASLM). The team have closely collaborated with ASLM to ensure this course provides a direct pathway into fellowship, for those who already hold a bachelor degree qualification in a relevant health discipline.

For more information and to apply, visit the Southern Cross University website.

Media contact: Caitlin Zillman, Communications and Development Manager at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine based at Southern Cross University +61 424 632 177 or caitlin.zillman@scu.edu.au