Tossing graduation caps into the air

Confirmed – Advanced Diplomas to be deleted December 2015

On Friday 21 November 2014 the Community Services & Health Industry Skills Council (CS&HISC) issued a notice confirming the decision to delete the Advanced Diplomas of Naturopathy, Western Herbal Medicine, Nutritional Medicine, and Homoeopathy, from December 2015.

Whilst this decision was made months ago, extreme opposition by a small number of stakeholders with vested interests resulted in a re-examination of the issue. After a unanimous recommendation from the Training Package Advisory Committee (TPAC), the Board of the CS&HISC has decided to uphold the previous decision, and remove these qualifications from the Health Training Package in December 2015.

This is a fantastic step in the right direction for our profession, a step which is long overdue. For more information on the rationale for this decision, have a look at my previous posts here and here.

FAQ’s

Here are some common questions and answers which may help clear up any potential confusion.

I have an Advanced Diploma – will I still be able to practice?

I am currently studying an Advanced Diploma. Will I be able to finish it?

I am currently studying an Advanced Diploma. Will I be able to get professional association membership when I graduate?

I am thinking of studying Naturopathy, Western Herbal Medicine, Nutritional Medicine, or Homoeopathy. Should I choose the Advanced Diploma now whilst it is still available, or a Bachelor degree course?

But I’ve heard Bachelor courses mean that the philosophy and tradition will be lost in favour of narrow, reductionist science. Is that correct?

I’ve heard the only difference between and Advanced Diploma and a Bachelor degree is the later focuses more on research. Is that correct?

But doesn’t this mean that I have to go to University instead of a private college?

Why can’t we still have Advanced Diplomas, and then upgrade to Bachelor degrees if we choose?

I’m a private college. Why has this been sprung on us so quickly? Where was the debate and why was there no warning?

But all the universities shut down their naturopathy/Western herbal medicine degrees. Doesn’t that mean that they don’t work/aren’t appropriate?

Why has this decision been made?

 

I have an Advanced Diploma – will I still be able to practice?

Yes. A number of associations such as the NHAA and ANTA have made statements saying that existing members with Advanced Diplomas will be able to continue their membership and their ability to practice, provided they stay current with their membership and their continuing profession education requirements.

I am currently studying an Advanced Diploma. Will I be able to finish it?

Yes. Training institutions are committed to offering students every opportunity to complete their qualification. Whilst a definite maximum teach out period has not been confirmed yet, in my opinion it is likely that the Australian Skills Quality Authority (ASQA) will allow Registered Training Organisations sufficient time to teach out their existing students.

I am currently studying an Advanced Diploma. Will I be able to get professional association membership when I graduate?

Yes. A number of professional associations have again stated that they will continue to accept new Advanced Diploma graduates.

I am thinking of studying Naturopathy, Western Herbal Medicine, Nutritional Medicine, or Homoeopathy. Should I choose the Advanced Diploma now whilst it is still available, or a Bachelor degree course?

In my personal opinion, I would recommend choosing the Bachelor degree level course if possible. The reason that this move is being made is that Bachelor level qualifications are more closely aligned with the needs of the profession and new graduates entering the profession. They are also more consistent with the qualification levels of other health disciplines, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Nursing, and others. In the future, employment opportunities are likely to be greater for graduates holding a Bachelor degree than for those holding an Advanced Diploma.

But I’ve heard Bachelor courses mean that the philosophy and tradition will be lost in favour of narrow, reductionist science. Is that correct?

No. Bachelor courses in disciplines like naturopathy have existed for decades. Some of these courses have been accredited by the NHAA for years, and the NHAA has strict course accreditation standards which include specifications for history and philosophy. In actual fact the higher education environment (as opposed to the vocational education Advanced Diplomas) is more conducive to teaching content such as history and philosophy, which don’t fit effectively in a vocational competency-based framework. Indeed the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF) clearly states on pages 16 and 48 that “Graduates of a Bachelor Degree will have a broad and coherent body of knowledge, with depth in the underlying principles and concepts in one or more disciplines as a basis for independent lifelong learning.” (emphasis mine). The specification for Level 6 (Advanced Diploma) does not mention the need for understanding the underlying principles and concepts of their discipline.

I’ve heard the only difference between and Advanced Diploma and a Bachelor degree is the later focuses more on research. Is that correct?

No. A Bachelor degree does not directly prepare you to do research. Generally the minimum level qualification preparing a student for research is AQF Level 8 (Bachelor with Honours). The main difference between the specifications for an Advanced Diploma and a Bachelor degree is that the Bachelor focuses more on critical reasoning skills, underlying principles and concepts in a discipline (eg. history and philosophy) and preparing graduates for independent professional practice. All of which are more in line with the requirements of our professions (whether you are in private clinical practice, or work as a technical consultant for a company), and the main reason for the move to Bachelor degree.

But doesn’t this mean that I have to go to University instead of a private college?

No. In fact (rightly or wrongly) there are no universities left in Australia teaching clinical naturopathy, nutritional medicine, Western herbal medicine, or homoeopathy at a Bachelor degree level. However the number of private colleges accredited to offer Bachelor degrees in these disciplines has increased in recent years, and is likely to increase a little more in the next couple of years.

Why can’t we still have Advanced Diplomas, and then upgrade to Bachelor degrees if we choose?

The current system of Bachelor of Health Science (Complementary Medicine) upgrades offered for years through some universities does not focus on turning graduates into more effective clinicians. Whilst these upgrades often provide more knowledge in health sciences, they don’t focus on improving the clinical decision making, prescribing or patient care skills of practitioners. The Charles Sturt University website entry for this upgrade clearly states “This course is not designed to teach you to become a complementary medicine practitioner, so there are no subjects that teach specific modalities” (cited 24 November 2014).

I’m a private college. Why has this been sprung on us so quickly? Where was the debate and why was there no warning?

In actual fact this is not sudden, and there has been ample warning. The move to Bachelor degrees in many of the disciplines began decades ago with the introduction of Bachelor degrees at the Southern School of Natural Therapies, and continued with Southern Cross University, University of Western Sydney, and Newcastle University. The so-called “Lin Report” published in 2005 by the School of Public Health, LaTrobe University, and funded by the Victorian Department of Human Services, states on page 17 that “The professions of naturopathy and WHM should work towards a bachelor’s degree as the minimum requirement for entry into practice”. The most recent discussions with the CS&HISC which led to the current decision commenced in early 2013, was reported on their website, and included two consultation periods in late 2013 and early 2014 where any and all stakeholders were invited to comment on the proposals. For more information on this process see my previous post here.

But all the universities shut down their naturopathy/Western herbal medicine degrees. Doesn’t that mean that they don’t work/aren’t appropriate?

No. The main reason these courses were shut down was their inability to compete with the continuing availability of the Advanced Diplomas, which were shorter in duration and less expensive.

Why has this decision been made?

In short, Bachelor degree level training is what the profession requires. Many Advanced Diploma courses have been “over-delivering” for years in recognition of this fact (remember that the AQF states that Advanced Diplomas should be 1.5-2 years in duration, not 2-3 years as seems to be common in this area), and the government is not likely to allow this to continue. Bachelor qualifications also increase job opportunities long term, and bring us more in line with other health care disciplines which use ingestive medicines. For more detail, see my earlier post here.

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