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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Current challenges and future directions for naturopathic medicine in Australia: a qualitative examination of perceptions and experiences from grassroots practice

Jon Lee Wardle1*, Jon Adams1, Chi-Wai Lui2 and Amie Elizabeth Steel1

Author Affiliations

1 Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney, 235-253 Jones St, 2007, Ultimo, NSW, Australia

2 School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Herston Rd, 4006, Herston, Qld, Australia

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BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine 2013, 13:15  doi:10.1186/1472-6882-13-15

Published: 14 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Naturopaths are an increasingly significant part of the healthcare sector in Australia, yet despite their significant role there has been little research on this practitioner group. Currently the naturopathic profession in Australia is undergoing a period of rapid professional growth and change. However, to date most research exploring the perceptions of naturopaths has been descriptive in nature and has focused on those in leadership positions rather than grassroots practitioners. This article explores the perceptions and experiences of practising naturopaths on the challenges and future directions of their profession.

Methods

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 naturopaths practising in the Darling Downs region of South-east Queensland, Australia to explore current perceived challenges in the naturopathic profession in Australia.

Results

Participants perceived a number of internal and external challenges relating to the profession of naturopathic medicine. These included a public misconception of the role of naturopathic medicine; the co-option of naturopathic medicine by untrained or unqualified practitioners; the devaluation of naturopathic philosophy as a core component of naturopathic practice; a pressure to move towards an evidence-based medicine model focused on product prescription; the increasing commercial interest infiltrating complementary medicine, and; division and fragmentation within the naturopathic profession. Naturopaths generally perceived government regulation as a solution for many of these challenges, though this may be representative of deeper frustrations and disconnections between the views of grassroots naturopaths and those in professional leadership positions.

Conclusions

Grassroots naturopaths identify a number of challenges that may have significant impacts on the quality, effectiveness and safety of naturopathic care. Given the significant role naturopaths play in healthcare in Australia the practice and policy implications of these challenges require further research attention.

Keywords:
Naturopathy; Regulation; Professional issues; Practitioner perceptions