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Masters degree opens up life-changing opportunities for naturopath, Carla

Naturopath Carla O'Brien stands in front of a wall of natural medicines

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Words
Tamara Hamilton
Published
16 April 2024

Having dedicated her 20-year career to helping clients achieve optimal health, ironically it took a disease outbreak for Carla O’Brien to accomplish a major career goal – a Master of Advanced Naturopathic Medicine from Southern Cross University.

Long lockdowns spent in a Singapore unit, with her family, presented many challenges for naturopath Carla, but also one precious gift – time.

“I had always wanted to push further in my education,” she said, “but, once you have a family and your own practice, there is no time.”

While many of us explored the science of sourdough starters, Carla embarked on her postgraduate journey. 

“It all fell into place,” she said.

But the study bubble burst when Carla and her family had to return to Australia mid-pandemic.

“I arrived in Australia having completed two units, and wasn’t able to continue,” she said. “I didn’t have furniture. I didn’t have a home!”

The supportive team at Southern Cross University’s National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine urged Carla not to give up on her dream.

“Southern Cross University’s lecturers were so kind, patient and considerate about what it takes to make an international move during a pandemic,” Carla recalled.

“They said, ‘Just come back to us when you’re ready.’ If I hadn’t had that understanding, I don’t think I would have obtained my Masters.”

“Southern Cross University is very supportive of big wonderful ideas, and your lecturers just want you to succeed.”

Naturopath Carla O'Brien stands in front of bushland

It was an achievement Carla could not have imagined in the 1990s when she worked in a pharmacy surrounded by bottles of mysterious vitamins and herbs, often written-off as new age or alternative products.

“I remember thinking, ‘How can this be new age if we’ve used these plants for thousands of years?” she said. “Back then, no-one in the pharmacy knew anything about them.”

With no university-level courses on offer at the time, Carla completed a short course in natural therapies.

“The course opened up my mind and love for plants,” she said, “and my understanding of what I could do with plants for people coming into the pharmacy.”

At the turn of the century, as the natural therapies sector rapidly grew into a multi-billion-dollar industry, Carla earned her Bachelor degree.

But it was her Masters research project and the opportunity to connect with Southern Cross University’s industry leaders, as well as other naturopaths around the country, that would have a dramatic impact on her as a practitioner.

Carla focused on naturopathic treatment of anxiety and depression, exploring the use of psychobiotics - probiotics for mental health.

“The experience totally changed me, and my clients will benefit,” she said. “Before, I was a solo practitioner, quite disconnected. Since then, I’ve opened up to more engagement within the naturopathic community and with other health practitioners.”

Carla also worked on a research project into long COVID with the World Naturopathic Federation.

“It was just phenomenal! If I hadn’t done my Masters, I would not have found those global connections to work on such a massive project,” she said.

“If you’re thinking about doing a Masters, take that first step,” she urged. “Southern Cross University is very supportive of big wonderful ideas, and your lecturers just want you to succeed.”

Interested in studying? The National Centre for Naturopathic Medicine has a range of courses on offer.

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