Student Spotlight: Alicia Donovan

Published 9 December 2021
A woman with long hair wearing a floral dress Alicia Donovan.

After receiving an injury in the Defence Force, Alicia was left unexpectedly contemplating her next steps into a different career path.

Now a practising naturopath, Alicia’s passion for helping people and the drive to provide the best evidence-based care, inspired her to undertake a Graduate Certificate in Advanced Naturopathic Medicine at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine (NCNM).

What inspired you to follow a career in naturopathic medicine?

I always knew I wanted to work in health and make positive changes in people’s lives, that’s why I initially signed up as a Medical Assistant with the Royal Australian Air Force. When I was medically discharged, I was left wondering – what can I do now?

The experience also exposed me to limitations in our current healthcare system and the gaps that need to be addressed to provide a more individualised and holistic approach to health. My rehabilitation journey led me to explore complementary medicines and modalities to aid my recovery, which led me to a new career working as a practising naturopath.

It’s evident that general practitioners (GPs) are often stretched for time with patients to provide the level of care people often require, beyond the specific ailment or illness that a patient presents with. There are significant gaps relating to preventative care and supportive strategies that our profession can assist with alongside other medical professionals. This gives patients the support and tools to take ownership over their own health and make it a priority, but also has significant potential to alleviate pressure on our current healthcare system.

When my Mother was diagnosed with bowel cancer, she changed her own approach to self-care and introduced our family to a new outlook on health, making sure we were doing right by our bodies. Knowing that we carry a rare gene fault in our family, I wanted to give myself the best chance to live a long and healthy life, which again involves taking a holistic and preventative approach.

I studied to become a naturopath and started practising this year. Prior to that, I worked as a naturopath in nutraceuticals and pharmacy.

Why did you choose to pursue further education with the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine?

While doing my clinical work part time, it became apparent to me that research is what’s going to advance the naturopathic profession in Australia.

My vision for health care in Australia is one of collaborative care using a multi-disciplinary approach. The National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine allows naturopaths to develop their skills in critical enquiry, clinical reasoning, specialised topics and provides a platform to contribute to research through their Masters programs.

When considering where to study, I was inspired by some of the teaching staff at the Centre, given their experience gained in different fields, and their willingness to use that knowledge to support our profession. I knew that they were interested in a collaborative approach with researchers and teaching staff in fields other than naturopathy. The online course structure also made this course very accessible, when juggling part time work.

Are you hoping to specialise in a specific area?

I’ve always been fascinated by the gut microbiome – and how it can impact all aspects of our health, like mental health and reproductive health. I wanted to gain more in-depth experience and knowledge in this area. I complete my postgraduate certificate shortly and have gained valuable knowledge in the following areas of study: Practice-Based Health Research, Critical Perspectives in Naturopathic Philosophy, Integrative Gastroenterology and The Human Microbiome and Health. 

What has been the most challenging part of this course? What has really pushed you to think outside of your day to day practice?

There is a strong focus on critical thinking in this course. The lecturers and course material get you to think in more of a research mindset and critically evaluate and analyse the evidence that is out there, reflect on what you’re currently doing in practice and then challenge you to consider how to best utilise that evidence and develop your own research.

One of the biggest challenges for me personally was to think more broadly and not micro analyse new information in the research literature, then to adapt the overall theories and messages to my practice and how I want to work and progress as a practitioner.

This requires a lot of time reviewing literature, critiquing methodologies and reflecting on current approaches and influences in practice, while also considering how we can uphold our traditional roots and naturopathic philosophies. Reflection is an undervalued learnt skill that can certainly power growth and create an exciting trajectory for the future of the naturopathic modality.

The six-week blocks are quite intensive, and it can be a challenge to manage that time commitment and workload, while making it a priority between clinical practice, family and social life. But it has definitely been worth it. It is helping me to build my confidence, build my skills as a practitioner and focus on a niche field.

Has this course sparked an interest in further research for you?

I would love to do the research program down the track. I never thought I would want to get into research, I always envisioned myself in private practice. However, I can now see the gaps in research where practitioners can contribute to furthering the profession.

I think there is great potential for future research in naturopathic medicine in Australia with courses like this at Southern Cross University. Taking a whole systems approach to research can really encompass the holistic care naturopaths provide and the strength of personalised, multi-targeted treatment interventions and strategies compared to the conventional approach of treating in isolation.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I have been really impressed by the standard of the lectures and the academics I am working with. I think the work they are doing behind the scenes to advocate for our profession is something that really needs to happen to advance and acknowledge naturopathic medicine in Australia as it is overseas. They are utilising their professional education and experience to guide us and provide us with the skills to individually advocate for and grow the face of naturopathy within our local communities and on a larger scale.

They have also helped me to gain critical perspectives in naturopathic philosophy, reflecting on traditional principles, acknowledging and evaluating whether the philosophies are still relevant today. I think it’s important to uphold these historical roots and continue to reflect on why naturopathy originated as a holistic approach to medicine.

 

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, NCNM Marketing and Communications Manager 0424 632 177 or caitlin.zillman@scu.edu.au