A review of tensions and risks in naturopathic education and training in Australia: A need for regulation

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 2012, 18 (4), pp. 363 - 370
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Objectives: In line with increasing complementary medicine (CAM) use, the Australian government has committed considerable resources to the training of CAM practitioners. However, it has generally failed to complement this support with regulation or accountability measures. This is particularly true in Australia's largest CAM profession (naturopaths), which remains entirely unregulated but attracts approximately AUD$40 million each year in government funding for its education sector. This article explores the consequences of such unfettered support on professional outcomes. Design: Data on Australian government funding for naturopathic student places were collated and compared with various outcome measures including research and professional outcomes. Results: Lack of accountability measures attached to government support has enabled the proliferation of commercial education providers in the sector. This is often at the expense of the university sector, which is financially disadvantaged in naturopathic education delivery through extra academic and research obligations not shared by private for-profit providers. The major beneficiaries of government funding have facilitated few formal contributions to naturopathic research or professional development, whereas those with the highest research, professional, and academic output attracted the least government funding. Course content has declined in the previous 5 years, and government funding is still directed to courses that do not meet the minimum education levels for the prescribed government definition of naturopath. Unfettered support has also resulted in a significant increase in student numbers growth, which significantly outstrips growth in utilization, potentially affecting the profession's sustainability. Conclusions: Lack of regulation in naturopathic education has resulted in significant risks to patients (through reduced standards) as well as the naturopathic profession itself. Although CAM advocates often focus on pushing for government support for the development CAM, support without the development of appropriate regulatory and accountability measures can ultimately be detrimental to the development of CAM. © Copyright 2012, Mary Ann Liebert, Inc. 2012.
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