Researcher Spotlight: Dr Alana Gall
Dr Alana Gall is a Pakana woman from Lutruwita (Tasmanian Aboriginal), early career health researcher, and advocate for the protection, preservation and accessibility of Australian First Nations traditional medicines and healing practices for all First Nations communities in Australia.
Early in her academia, Alana found that when First Nations Australians do not have access to their own traditional medicines, they tend to use other traditional and complementary medicines to meet their holistic health and wellbeing needs. This, along with a personal experience with natural medicines in her own life, sparked her interest in pursuing research in this area.
Alana has an intuitive and broad knowledge of Indigenous peoples’ health and wellbeing globally, Australian First Nations traditional medicines and healing practices, Indigenist and decolonising methodologies, and extensive qualitative and co-design experience, that she brings to the Centre and is in the process of developing a research program that will centre around Australian First Nations traditional medicines and healing practices, utilising her extensive professional network of Australian First Nations peoples.
The National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine welcomes Alana as Postdoctoral Research Fellow. We sat down with Alana to talk about research – and where her inquisitive motivation for learning and desire to understand things from different perspectives came from. Together, we are committed to First Nations peoples, by embedding a research program that focusses on their health and wellbeing needs into the overall goals of the Centre.
What inspired you to work in Indigenous health, nutritional medicine, and wellbeing?
I have always been exposed to natural medicines and cultural ways of life. My Dad always hunted for food when I was young, mostly snakes, spear fishing and hunting for kangaroos. My Mum, who is of English descent, was a keen gardener (as was her father) and growing food “organically” was just a normal part of our lives. So, we tended to use natural remedies passed down in both my Mum’s and Dad’s family’s. Growing up I didn’t know this was different to other people and I always liked the idea of using the things placed on earth to heal. It wasn’t until my daughter was 5 years old that I really understood just how powerful these natural medicines could be. She had suffered with pustular tonsillitis no less than 5 times in one year. The sixth bout was very stubborn, and I ended up having to go to the doctor for a third lot of antibiotics as it just wasn’t clearing up. This upset me as I hated seeing my daughter in so much pain and the doctor was saying she would need to get her tonsils removed. I am of the belief that where possible we should keep everything in our bodies, as otherwise why would it be there? So, I didn’t like that option either. I looked into natural medicines for tonsillitis and her pustular tonsillitis healed up after using them for a few days, and now she is 21 years old and hasn’t suffered with it since! This solidified in my mind just how powerful these medicines are and that I wanted to know more.
How have your experiences developed into a career in research?
While studying to be a Naturopath back in 2008, one of my lecturers pulled me up for using a citation in an assignment that wasn’t quite right. I asked him what was wrong with the citation, and he explained that the research included a Scottish population cohort, and that I was using this reference in relation to Australian people. He went on to explain what research is and how it works, which piqued my interest. I found myself thinking about how I could potentially impact change more broadly with research, compared to one patient as a time as a Naturopath.
I decided to pursue research and ended up getting a position with the Lowitja Institute. From there, I secured my first Research Assistant role at Menzies School of Health Research, and that was the beginning of my now over 11 years' experience in research. The interesting aspect of all this is, the original lecturer who piqued my interest in research, was the now Professor Jon Wardle who is the Founding Director of NCNM (National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine).
Tell us about your PhD research and how it came about?
Along my journey in research, I realised having a PhD was something I would need to achieve in order to have the autonomy to pursue the research I was most passionate about. I had a strong research agenda and knew from other fellow First Nations Australians, that the community wanted these areas of research done as well. I completed a Bachelor of Health Science (Nutritional Medicine) a Masters by Research, and then my PhD.
I always intended on doing research in the First Nations traditional medicines space, but this area was outside of my previous team's research scope. For this reason, I chose to focus my PhD on exploring wellbeing for Indigenous peoples in Australia, Canada, Aotearoa-New Zealand and the United States. The use of traditional and complementary medicines affords benefits to Indigenous peoples that align with their holistic views on health and wellbeing, so the connection to wellbeing was important to my overall research agenda.
What has been your most rewarding experience to date?
There have been so many rewarding experiences throughout my time working in research. From the publishing of my very first peer-reviewed article during my Masters by Research, to graduating with my PhD, through to winning my first big grant as CIA! However, the most rewarding thing to date has been having the opportunity to pass on the knowledge that has been afforded to me, to others so they too can have that knowledge and further their careers and achieve their goals. I have really enjoyed the one-on-one mentorship that supervision of students and Research Assistants entails; when they are engaged and excited about learning... nothing tops that!
What aspect of conducting research excites you the most?
Without a doubt the parts about research that I love the most is answering the question “why?” and delving into the human psyche. I am naturally drawn to mysteries and constantly asking questions in my own mind. I love to tinker and try to work out how things work, and why they work the way they do. This, coupled with my interest in people and how they think and why they act the way they do, drew me into research as a way to explore my passions and address my concerns in health and wellbeing globally. It is for this reason that both the development and design of research projects, and the analysis of qualitative data, are the most enjoyable aspects of my job.
What project/s are you planning to work on now?
I am currently in the process of developing a research program that will centre around First Nations Australians traditional medicines and healing practices. I am passionate about the protection, preservation and accessibility of these medicines and practices for all First Nations communities in Australia, so the projects I develop will have these three aspects in mind.
What role do you hope to play in furthering research at the National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine?
I hope to extend on mine and others’ research that has found that when First Nations Australians do not have access to their own traditional medicines, they tend to use other traditional and complementary medicines to meet their holistic health and wellbeing needs. Advocating for the respectful inclusion of these medicines in the Australian health sector, is an important part of addressing the overarching goals of my research program. Further, these lands we all live, work and thrive on are, and always will be, First Nations Australians land. The work that NCNM are facilitating by embedding this research program positions them as allies within this space and shows respect for the Traditional Owners of these lands.
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