Researcher Spotlight: Associate Professor Romy Lauche of the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine

Published 18 March 2021
Woman in striped shirt with trees and path behind her

Associate Professor Romy Lauche is a qualified psychologist with a PhD in medical sciences. She is extensively experienced with all facets of clinical and non-clinical research including research methodology, systematic reviews, meta-analysis, mixed-methods research, and statistical analyses of large population health datasets.

Romy's research priorities include non-pharmacological interventions such as mindfulness, yoga and Tai Chi and informal healthcare (self-care) in the context of chronic illness.

Recognising the lack of women researchers in senior positions, Romy is championing for the support and empowerment of other women entering research through the development and facilitation of various programs and initiatives in her current role. Romy is also a member of Southern Cross University's Ally Network, acting as an advocate for a University free from harassment or discrimination based on a person’s sexuality or gender identity, understanding the difficulties and discrimination faced by LGBTIQ+.

We spoke with Romy about her role as Deputy Director of Research at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine, and about how her previous experiences have shaped her perceptions and the pursuit of complementary medicine research.

Q: How you were introduced to complementary medicine?

During my studies in psychology, I encountered mindfulness, but I had no concept of complementary or alternative medicines. But following my studies, I ended up in an internship program in an integrative hospital and was completely taken by surprise. This hospital was quite innovative at the time – part of the treatment at this hospital was focused on integration with mind/body medicine with conventional medicine. There was a focus on providing patients with chronic illness education and training on how exercise, stress management and/or nutrition could help them to manage their health and wellbeing and was carried out by a multidisciplinary team of psychologists, sport and exercise scientists, nutritionists and dieticians, and social workers. This education complemented the work of the physicians, nurses and physiotherapists, and contributed largely to the treatment success.

During that internship I was introduced to many complementary therapies and it all immediately resonated with me and it really made me rethink what I thought I knew about medicine and health.

Q: How have your experiences shaped your career?

While all of my previous experiences have built the foundation for the position I am in now, but if I had not taken that initial internship, I cannot be certain I would have come in to contact with complementary therapies and continued down this path.

I did not necessarily proactively approach research, however during my studies, and during the internship I became involved in various research projects, and I thoroughly enjoyed them. Entering a PhD program seemed like a natural progression. Reflecting on my PhD and early postdoc years, there are a few things that I can see shaped my career and led me to the position I am in now.

I was given a huge amount of freedom in my PhD which allowed me to explore various areas of interest, I ended up building quite a diverse research portfolio. I was able to connect, network and collaborate with other researchers – peers and mentors alike – throughout this time and that gave me such invaluable knowledge and opportunity.

Sometimes it is opportunities that present themselves along the way and they take you places you never envisioned. One of those opportunities came up a few years ago, at a complementary medicine research centre at University of Technology Sydney (UTS). The program for early-mid career researchers put an otherwise overlooked Australia on the map for me and it led me to a fellowship at the UTS in Sydney and ultimately to being offered my position with the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine.

I am excited to be contributing meaningfully to the complementary medicine field by developing and implementing a robust research program and building capacity through supporting HDR students and early career researchers – it has nearly come full circle.

Q: What are your goals for research at the Centre this year?

As we continue to develop our research facilities, including clinical trials and lab spaces, we are also building our capacity. Our research focus areas include non-pharmacological or self-administered interventions; new models of care and integrated healthcare delivery; natural drug discovery and development; as well as translation of traditional knowledge. We are working to build a successful HDR program through supporting Honours, Masters by Research and PhD students, offering not only a broad spectrum of potential research topics, but also high-quality supervision.

I feel so honoured to be working with such a highly qualified and multi-disciplinary team of academics and professional staff. The diversity in backgrounds and experiences means that we are not just limited to doing one type of research, but instead we are utilising the whole spectrum of methodologies to achieve common goals under our principles and values - we have an exciting year ahead.

Q: Can you tell me a bit about what it means to be a female leader in this industry?

The vast majority of naturopathy students are women, yet very few women pursue a research career, or can be found in research or leadership positions. While I personally have always felt supported throughout my career by supervisors and colleagues, and I have never felt that any opportunity has been withheld from me for being a woman, I acknowledge that this might not always be the case for others.

It is a priority of mine to nurture the next generation of researchers to support and enable women the best opportunity to progress their career and to succeed in research. Our Centre has recently concluded the first Summer Research Scholarships Program, an initiative towards fostering the next generation of researchers by offering undergraduate students the opportunity to experience research first-hand. All candidates this year were women, and to see their passion and dedication for research grow alongside their skills and knowledge, that was just amazing.

The National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine at Southern Cross University is an internationally recognised centre of excellence and innovation in naturopathic medicine and health education, research and practice. NCNM creates, promotes and advocates a strong culture of incorporating evidence-based science into naturopathic education and clinical practice.

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