The natural medicine workforce in Australia: a national survey part 1

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Grace, S, Rogers, S & Eddey, S 2013, 'The natural medicine workforce in Australia: a national survey part 1', Journal of the Australian Traditional-Medicine Society, vol. 19, no. 1, pp. 13-18.

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Between 1996 and 2001 the growth in complementary health occupations represented the second highest increase (29.6%) of all health occupations (Australian Government Productivity Commission, 2005). This rapid increase in the natural medicine workforce appears to have had little effect on government planning and policy. For example, although the Australian Government Productivity Commission report acknowledged the growth of the complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) workforce, it did not address any role that CAM might play in the future health system. There was also no mention of CAM practitioners in the Federal, State and Territory governments' $500 million Australian Better Health Initiative aimed at managing chronic illnesses and preventive medicine (Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, 2006) despite these being the main reasons that people choose natural medicine (Department of Human Services, 2003; MacLennan, Myers, & Taylor, 2006; Mulkins, Verhoef, Eng, Findlay, & Ramsum, 2003). The Australian Health Workforce Taskforce was established to manage major reforms to the Australian health workforce. Its agenda is to implement workforce reform and devise solutions that integrate workforce planning, policy and reform with the necessary reforms to education and training. Specific aims include increasing supply and reforming the workforce (e.g. by supporting new models of care, new and expanding roles, and multi-disciplinary teams). In this climate of significant health care reform it appears that little attention is being given to existing and potential contributions of natural medicine practitioners or to education reforms for the future, an area of neglect that is becoming increasingly entrenched. In 2005 a national population-based survey found that 68.9% of respondents had used at least one of 17 complementary and alternative (CAM) therapies in the previous 12 months and 64% had visited a CAM practitioner in the same period (Xue, Zhang, Lin, Da Costa, & Story, 2007). Despite this increasing public endorsement, however, little is known about the natural medicine workforce. Three national surveys of natural medicine practitioners, funded by the Department of Health and Ageing, were conducted in Australia in 2000 (Bensoussan, Myers, Wu, & O'Connor, 2004; Hale, 2002, 2003). These surveys were followed by a review of naturopathy and Western herbal medicine (Department of Human Services, 2003). Workforce surveys need to be repeated to provide accurate and up-to-date data on the natural medicine workforce in Australia which could be used to lobby government policy makers and to drive professional associations' strategic planning. The aim of this project was to survey Australian natural medicine practitioners belonging to a professional association in order to update what is known about their profile and work practices.

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