To mark International Women's Day, NICM Health Research Institute held an incredible one-day symposium, Influential Women in Natural Therapies: A Legacy for the Future.
Presented by NICM Health Research Institute Western Sydney University and The Jacka Foundation of Natural Therapies, this inaugural one-day Symposium was held in the new Jacka Foundation Conference Centre; it brought together some of Australia's most influential women in natural therapies.
This extensive and celebrated line-up of women shared their professional journeys, epitomising resilience, peace, strength, political savviness, building bridges and inspiring hope. Many of the touching life-altering stories of bravery and support had a common thread – to support each other and go for it!
Among the stellar line-up of speakers were:
Judy Jacka, Vice-Chair, Jacka Foundation of Natural Therapies
Through the five decades of her life dedicated to natural therapies, Judy's passion has seen her consult with up to 90 clients per week. Experienced author on health and healing, Judy has led the development of an integrated approach to research in natural therapies.
Associate Professor Vicki Kotsirilos AM, NICM HRI Research Committee Member and Adjunct
At just 28 years of age, Vicki founded the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA). She spoke about the consumer-led shift to healthcare in Australia. Detailing her approach, which is advocating for change gently, respectfully and harmoniously, Vicki spoke about her passion for her patients and providing a holistic approach to individual patient care. She added that the side effects of complementary medicines are real and rare. However, most adverse medicine reactions – 98 per cent – are from prescription medicines. She advocated practising simplicity and self-care.
Professor Kerryn Phelps AM, NICM HRI Advisory Board Member
Speaking about integrative medicine politics in Australia, Kerryn outlined her approach, which has always been to listen to patients since patient care is a two-way education.
Kerryn stressed that the anti-complementary medicine lobby group, Friends of Science in Medicine (FSM), doesn't reflect peoples' own experiences. She further highlighted the opportunity to raise issues and harness evidence, knowledge and logic as the consumer-led firepower needed to counteract what is being thrown at integrative medicine.
Petrea King, Founder, Quest for Life Foundation
Petrea championed the need to understand and value self-care to best access the most valuable characteristics of an entrained brain – insight, intuition, wisdom, humour, spontaneity, creativity and compassion.
Gail O'Brien AO, Patient Advocate, Board of Directors, Chris O'Brien Lifehouse
Gail shared the vision of her late husband, Dr Chris O'Brien, who was one of Australia's leading head and neck surgeons. In her moving presentation; Walk in My Shoes, How to Reach Truly Patient-Centred Care, she recounted that Chris used his own cancer experience to forcefully advocate for better cancer care. His vision for a not-for-profit comprehensive, integrated cancer treatment centre saw the opening of the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse.
Gail relayed its background and evolution to the current day, and the many lessons learnt. By enshrining empathy, compassion and an experiential understanding of the cancer patient's journey into its culture and operation, the Chris O'Brien Lifehouse continues to strive to be a place of healing as well as curing. Her take-home statement? Treat the whole person, not just the disease and do it with passion.
Lucy Haslam, Cofounder and Director, United in Compassion and Founder, Australian Medicinal Cannabis Alliance Health
Lucy and her family were devastated when their youngest son, Dan, was diagnosed with stage 4 bowel cancer. The family's unconditional love saw no bounds. Her nursing background and her husband's police background meant that they were fervently against the prohibited drug, cannabis. But when a friend suggested Dan try it to ease symptoms, she was determined to do whatever was needed to try and relieve Dan's suffering. Her young son experienced instant and unexpected relief that reduced his pain and nausea and improved his appetite.
Lucy has researched and advocated for the need to review the framework for medicinal cannabis in Australia, which remains a highly political subject and heavily reflective of vested interests.
Dr Christabell Yeoh, Medical Director, Next Practice Care of GenBiome; Integrative Doctor, Invitation to Health
Christabell detailed her deep interest in nutrition and environmental medicine. People cannot be healthy in an unhealthy environment, she said. And people demand so much more after experiencing unsatisfactory outcomes. People are also open to trying different approaches. Functional and integrative medicine is fast becoming the new springboard for determining lifespan, resilience and allowing for beneficial outcomes said Christabell. She called for collaboration and unification of healing modalities held together by a positive and optimum environment.
Associate Professor Lesley Braun, Director, Blackmores Institute
When she was studying pharmacy in the 1980s, so-called alternative medicines were viewed by medical doctors and pharmacist as unproven quackery said Lesley. Since her passion also lay in naturopathy, Lesley soon understood that no single approach would fulfil the needs of any individual patient.
She spoke about the need to build bridges and find shared common ground to facilitate greater acceptance of different approaches in conventional and complementary medicine. Recalling her student life, Lesley spoke of the need to be bi-lingual – to be able to talk in the language of the pharmacist and also be fluent in naturopathy. No one has a monopoly on cure; patients deserve better, she said.
Leah Hechtman, Director, the Natural Health and Fertility Centre and Author
The power to change both medicine and the health of future generations lies in supporting female fertility said Leah. Women have always been the healers, the epicentre of the family, she said. Speaking from the heart, she stated that disrespect needs to change. The more involved and collaborative integrative medicine becomes, the greater the service to our community and our people.
These are just some of the incredibly passionate and visionary women that spoke at this unique event. All have a story to tell and have a passion, a driving force to become a part of our life; this can only come about if we are supported.
Medicine is an art – we have no ownership of it. Being there for all our patients is the beginning of healing. There is so much that integrative medicine can offer, and this can only continue to grow.
The common threads that ran through this incredible event were resilience, peace within love, strength, political savviness, and building bridges.
We thank these pioneering women for sharing their passionate and touching stories of bravery and support.