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Over the past 20 months, the Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS) has transformed its accredited education program into a structured program with three distinct levels:

Minimum education standards: “We’ve defined these for each modality we offer for member accreditation (http://www.atms.com.au/minimum-education-standards/),” says CEO Charles Wurf. “These standards are the key for the future skill-base of natural medicine practitioners, and are what ATMS accepts when it works with colleges and students considering becoming accredited members.”
Recognised provider of education: “ATMS has a formal program where we recognise a college or education provider,” explains Wurf. “We generally follow the regulatory models, so if the college is already a registered training organisation (RTO) or operating in higher education, this will satisfy us. But we also have an exception capacity for colleges that operate outside the formal education structure, where we assess and recognise that college for that purpose.”
Course accreditation: “We review the college’s entire education program and assess the course against our minimum education standards,” says Wurf. “If it meets - or exceeds - our standards, we accredit the course.”

Within this program, ATMS is qualification-agnostic: if a course meets its minimum education standards, then it's an acceptable pathway to accredited membership. “This is important for the ingestive space, where advanced diplomas have been withdrawn from the health training package,” says Wurf. “We expect colleges will offer alternatives, and we’ll work with a non-accredited, non-regulated course, or an advanced-diploma type equivalent, or a higher-education course, so long as the qualification outcomes meet or exceed our standards. Because there is just as vital a need for excellent clinically trained, vocational-level practitioners. The advantage of this is that people looking to choose a college can be confident ATMS has assessed the course against its standards and on graduation, they’ll have an automatic, seamless pathway into ATMS membership - and accredited membership of a professional body is the ticket to practice, and health fund recognition.”

Expert advice

Prospective students need to be aware that the whole system of government study assistance has been overhauled. “The key factors are when they enrolled, course length and type, and type of educational organisation,” says Wurf. “We encourage students to determine how these changes impact them by checking online (http://studyassist.gov.au/sites/studyassist/helppayingmyfees/fee-help/pages/fee-help-) and also talking to the college about available assistance.”

When we asked our experts for advice for people considering a career as a natural therapist, Sally Kelvin’s instant response was “Do it! This is an incredible time to be involved in natural health, and career opportunities are fast evolving. It’s a fantastic choice for working in a rewarding field that supports others' health and wellbeing.” Wurf agrees, and adds: “The attraction for most people is the desire to help and to do good, and I believe our system meets this expectation. But I’d encourage students to develop basic business skills to enable them to run a successful practice, as part of their education and ongoing professional development.”

Dr Melisa Rangitakatu recommends talking to as many people working in natural therapies as possible to obtain different perspectives to help you be as informed as possible when making your decision. “Look for a course that offers exposure to a great clinical learning environment, with superb lecturers and supports to guide and mentor you,” advises the ACNT spokesperson. “An environment that offers a solid community of practice so you develop a connected network of supportive practitioners, which will be important when you graduate.”

Choosing the right course

How do you you assess whether a course is right for you? “A great starting point is to ask yourself what you want to get out of your time studying,” says Kelvin. “Ultimately, the course choice will depend on whether you’re doing it for personal growth or for a career change. Also, determine whether the education provider’s values match yours, and check what kind of flexibility the course offers; and if a student clinic is available where you’re studying, pop in for a consultation, to see what you can expect to be doing yourself.”

“Ensure the course is recognised and accredited with leading and relevant professional associations, as this is necessary to secure a TGA exemption certificate to purchase practitioner-only product, to get professional indemnity and public liability insurance, and to be eligible for recognition by health funds for rebates,” says ACNT. “Ask what career outcomes to expect to ensure the course is right for your career aspirations, and determine the commitment and time required. Research the study hours expected, compulsory on-campus subjects, types of subjects offered, and the clinic components and extent.”

“Read the course structure to understand what content is taught,” advises Rangitakatu. “Ask to speak with academics about their career journeys and typical career options. Raise any concerns so the education provider can walk through these early, and outline available support.” Wurf adds: “For me, the key is matching the student's expectations around what they're hoping for in clinical practice with what a college can offer in clinical supervision. Talk with the college to ensure you’re clear about its practical clinical supervision and clinical practice standards.”

Maximising your education

Committing to study is a daunting prospect – how do you get the most from your studies? “Don’t be afraid to ask for help,” advises Rangitakatu. “Recognise that we all have areas of weakness – and that this is OK. When things seem overwhelming, remember that success comes with a commitment to achieving small goals. Take it one class at a time, and one assignment at a time. This is what builds confidence.” ACNT recommends investigating and exploring all the resources offered to support your course learning. “Engage with lecturers, fellow students and industry – including associations or peak bodies – to build networks. For employability, embrace all aspects of learning offered by the educational organisation, as this will create future opportunities and provide opportunities to practise theory in real-world environments like a clinic.” Kelvin says: “Get involved! Ask questions, join groups, try new things, and stay curious. Put time and effort into getting to know people in your field of choice. Everyone has a story and you never know what insights they might provide.” Leon Cowen adds: “Communicate. As adult learners, it’s expected that you already have a support network – family and friends – to call on. If it’s a course matter, then your support network is the educational institution. Your lecturers are there to provide the best education and get you through the course so if you need help – ask.”