Alison Mitchell – Naturopath
Posted November 14, 2017, by Jenny Sakr
Alison is passionate about helping people reclaim good health and despite being much younger than her friends in the field, has an impressive 10 years of experience. Read about her career journey from candy girl at the local cinema to natural health professional
Where are you currently based?
I work as a sole trader and rent rooms in two different clinic locations. I am currently based in Health Dimensions in Windsor, and Dural Osteopaths in Dural. I also work as a contract academic at Endeavour College of Natural Health, teaching naturopathy and nutrition.
How long have you been a naturopath?
I have worked as a Clinical Naturopath for nearly 10 years and a Contract Academic for 1 year.
What did you study and what are the steps you took to become a naturopath?
I started at UWS studying a Bachelor of Applied Science (Naturopathic Studies), then went on to complete the Postgraduate Diploma (Naturopathy). From this, I applied to two of the major Naturopathic associations – NHAA and ATMS – which provides me with the connections to get insurance to practice, and the ability for my patients to claim consultations on their private health funds.
I sent my resume to a few natural health clinics to work there as a naturopath, and Health Dimensions was my first position. Since then I have worked at other clinics as well and started at Endeavour after my son was born.
A few years ago I also trained as an Infant Massage Instructor, where I learnt how to teach parents and caregivers the skills to confidently and safely massage their baby.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
The list is long of the various job titles I dreamt of when I was very young but the ones that lasted the longest was a vet, a florist, an actress, a casting agent, and then finally a natural health practitioner.
When did you first know you wanted to work as a naturopath and what inspired you?
I've always been attracted to the image of the medieval herbalist and healer. As a teenager, I used to massage my mother's shoulders and it seemed I had a knack for it, my friends would ask me for massages too and I liked that I was helping people feel better. When it came time to choose a path after school my parents felt it was important to get a university education, and whilst scouring the university booklets, the description of Naturopathy (which at UWS included massage training) appealed to me a lot because it combined herbal medicine and massage.
Explain a typical day at work
The days of my work can vary depending on whether I am doing a 'clinic' day, a teaching day or what I call a 'behind the scenes' day.
I arrive at clinic and set up my room (tidying if needed, laying out the towels on the massage bed, turning on my laptop, organising my files for the day) and then familiarise myself with the notes of the patients I am due to see. Then once the first patient arrives, I begin the consultations.
For a typical naturopathy consultation, it will involve me talking to them about their health concerns and their progress, performing any relevant examination, discussing test results, and explaining the treatment I am providing to them. In the last section of the consultation, I prepare their remedies. This usually involves a herbal tonic, which I make by combining liquid herbs to make a formula that addresses their health concerns. Making a formula is an act that has taken a lot of practice to become good at, as there is an art and science to making a good one. I will also usually recommend some nutritional supplements or diet/lifestyle modifications. Nutritional education is often done over a few consultations as I have found that small changes are easier for patients to implement than a complete overhaul at once. Throughout the consultation, I have been taking notes, and I finalise the notes while the patient is seeing the receptionist. For many of my patients, I type up a summary of their instructions along with any resources they will benefit from into a PDF which I email to them afterwards (this often takes some time so it is done that night or during a 'behind the scenes' day). Occasionally I will provide a remedial massage, which is self-explanatory. I have 1 or 2 thirty minute breaks throughout the day where I will have lunch, work on the instruction documents, and reply to emails. I may also makeup repeat herbal formulas for patients, answer phone calls or emails in any spare time I have throughout the day.
Behind the Scenes Day
In a behind the scenes day, which at the moment is when my baby naps on my days off or has gone to bed I perform various book work tasks, answer emails, research specific topics for patients, or read new research to keep up to date. I try to write articles for my website which helps to market myself as well and attract new patients, record podcasts or videos, or write meal plans.
A requirement to continue practising is staying up to date with CPE points, which also requires me to attend seminars and workshops – this may be done on a weekend or evening and would occur about once a month. Some of these are webinars which I will fit into my spare time too.
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you in your career?
I am always learning about fascinating new revelations in the health world, and I am also frequently amazed at some of the stories my patients tell me. I am constantly learning and being challenged, and I find this exceptionally interesting. I would not like to be in a static job.
Name the best and worst parts of your job
The best part is when a patient tells you of their improvements and their success stories, especially when it is a condition they've been battling with for a long time and not found answers for – in particular conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome. I also take immense pleasure in receiving the news that a patient has had a healthy baby, after working with them for fertility. I also like the benefits that come from working for yourself, I can set my own hours, I don't have to wear a uniform and the harder I work the more I succeed.
The worst parts would be that some cases are upsetting, and being a sensitive person I have a hard time not taking their emotions on myself. As much as I would like to be able to help everyone this is not always possible, so if a patient does not respond as well as I had hoped I am bothered by this, and often spend a great deal of time trying to work out why else I can do to help them. Working for yourself also has it's downsides – if I don't see patients I don't earn any money, I don't get sick pay, holiday pay, maternity leave and I have to pay my own superannuation, the number patient bookings can fluctuate depending on the time of year or if someone cancels at the last minute or does not turn up I lose money as well. At some times there may also be a lot more 'behind the scenes' work to do, and I am the only one who can do this I will have to work longer to do this.
What’s the most important career tip someone has given you?
When I first graduated I looked very young, and I was also the youngest in my class – many people choose to become naturopaths later in life after dealing with their own health issues successfully through naturopathy. When I got into practice I was very self-conscious of people judging me based on my age, especially because the mature age students were often assumed to have already had years of experience. I tried to counter this by acting what I thought was very professional and clinical. When a year or so had gone by, someone said that I was coming across as cold and that I should just be myself (which is usually warm and friendly) so I dropped the mask and ever since my clinic blossomed. While some people still made comments about my age, the warmth and care that I let show was what became one of my strengths.
What do you wish someone had told you before starting in this industry?
Find an area to focus on and make it your niche. And remember, you can't help everyone and don't try to push your help onto people until they ask you for it.
Where do people have to start to get into this field and what is a standard salary for this role?
At present there are no regulations on becoming a naturopath, however to become insured and accredited most associations are now accepting a minimum of a Bachelor degree in Naturopathy. People may wish to start by working in a health food shop to gain an insight into the industry whilst starting their studies.
In the field of natural medicine, there are extremely varying salaries. As many clinicians work for themselves the income can range from a few hundred dollars a fortnight if they see only a few clients, to a few thousand a week for the clinicians in the busy, well-off areas.
It is also possible to work as a brand rep, a researcher, a technical support advisor in a product company, a writer, a teacher, or to work in a retail environment.
Name a career highlight
Once every couple of years a large conference is held where speakers from all over the world gather to share their wisdom. I love attending these conferences, and basking in the wisdom of the speakers and getting to socialise with my naturopath friends.
What’s next for you?
I plan to continue as I have been with my clinic work and teaching, but I am slowly working on ebooks and programs that I would like to have for sale on my website.
Tell us about life outside of work..
While I don't get much time for it anymore, I am moderately skilled at drawing, knitting and crocheting. I love cooking and eating, and in my spare time I also enjoy gardening and playing video games.
Think you've found your calling? Get the right skills to make your career dreams come true when you enquire about a course in Naturopathy.
Jenny found her way with words while interning during uni, since, she's produced articles on it all – from hair and beauty to homewares, travel, career advice and study tips. On a weekend you're most likely to find her lining up for a table at the latest cafe or restaurant.