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Do I Really Need a Degree?

by Susanna Dowie(more info)

listed in clinical practice, originally published in issue 121 - March 2006

"Part of my drive to go back into higher education was an emotional issue. I want to be respected in the academic world as well as the medical world. In order to liaise with doctors and practitioners in my Harley Street practice, I need the credentials." So says Liz Jeannet, an experienced and well-qualified complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) practitioner, who returned to college in 2001 to do a three-year, full-time, BSc degree in Acupuncture in London.

In the face of a growing need to 'prove ourselves', Liz is one of many CAM practitioners who go back to school to gain the credentials and the credibility that back up the successful work they already do in daily clinical practice.

"You are nothing but a quack." People probably won't say it to your face, but the fear that this is what they say behind your back, lurks in the minds of many CAM practitioners – the dread that one of these days you may be 'found out'; revealed, somehow, as a fraud or a charlatan. 'Quackery' is a label we all would choose to avoid and it is easy for this charge to be levelled at us when we have not gone down the conventional academic route.

But for Liz, it's more than this. In the increasingly competitive field of CAM, she is driven from the inside. Already a highly experienced practitioner, she confesses: "I felt strongly about standards. It wasn't enough to get a degree; it had to be a good degree. I think this is because if I want to establish myself as excellent within my area of speciality, I need both the inner confidence and the outer recognition that a good degree brings. The Harley Street doctors I work alongside usually have first class degrees. If I'm looking to earn respect, it helps if I have the same." Day by day, the modern world of CAM practice is developing alliances with conventional medicine. These days, referrals are happening on a regular basis, and Liz is not the only career practitioner out there who wants to be the one involved in these referrals.

But is this the only reason to go back to school? Liz doesn't think so. Study and research have formed an integral part of her successful medical career. Her first staging post was in nursing. From here she moved into CAM with a three-year diploma in Alexander Technique. This was followed by a further three years training in Homeopathy, a Massage diploma and an undergraduate degree in Acupuncture. Now she is part way through an MSc in Nutrition for Healthcare Practitioners. Liz explains "Nursing I survived. Alexander Technique was a pleasure. Homeopathy was exciting. But Acupuncture is the only one that really satisfied me. I recognize that I want to be known as an acupuncturist now – this is the focus I want at this stage in my career.

"I also did acupuncture for the excitement, the challenge and the stimulus. The BSc sharpened me, made me more confident, socially and professionally, partly because of the level of the course. Homeopathy was not degree level. At the time I thought it was tough, but it was not like this. It is hard to know how much of the appeal of the BSc course is to do with the content and how much is the qualification. A great attraction is the qualification."

So why did Liz want to follow up her already impressive list of qualifications with an MSc in Nutrition? Does she still need the credentials, or is it something else? "I have been looking for years for this course," says Liz. "The combination of Chinese medicine with Nutrition is just it! But it's true that to have a Masters qualification thrown in is a huge selling point." Liz is a practitioner with clear focus. She has identified, from first-hand experience, which are the ingredients of success in the modern-day CAM market, and she is making life easy by pursuing her goal in a subject she loves.

As part of the MSc in Nutrition for Healthcare Practitioners that Liz is enrolled on, she is pushing the boundaries still further by undertaking a research study into menopause. "Combining treatment with acupuncture and nutrition, I will look at hot flushes, rheumatoid conditions, loss of confidence, insomnia, and other common menopausal symptoms. Menopausal women need a lot of support and they find it hard to know what to do with things like HRT. I plan to specialize in this in clinical practice and take my research a stage further. As part of my study, I will make a number of fact sheets for my patients and then I'm looking at writing a book on the concept of hormonal intelligence: stress hormones, sex hormones, insulin, etc."

There is no doubt that Liz Jeannet is one of that new, exciting breed: a focussed and successful CAM practitioner, who is on a mission to acquire the credentials to match. You can expect to hear more from her.


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About Susanna Dowie

Susanna Dowie, MA, LicAc, MBAcC, HonMRCHM has been the Principal of the London College of Traditional Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (LCTA: URL in Finchley, London, since 1995 and has run a private practice of Chinese medicine for the last 20 years. She has a Masters Degree in Complementary Health Studies from Exeter University and is an Honorary Member of the Register for Chinese Herbal Medicine. She can be contacted on Tel: 020 8349 3225;

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