Fiona Chin’s day starts around 7.30am as she examines the test results and notes that fill her in on her patients’ woes.
And the naturopath won’t close those files until 6pm or so, after a day spent with patients in consultations lasting from 15 minutes to an hour, doing diagnostic tests that include blood and allergy tests, formulating and dispensing herbal medicines and giving dietary advice.
Chin and fiance Duncan Capicchiano own and practise at Vitalchi Wellness Sanctuary in Blackburn and also practise at the city’s Melbourne Natural Wellness Clinic.
“But I’m winding back the time at the city clinic because the Blackburn business needs more time spent on the business rather than in the business,” Chin says.
Naturopathy is an industry where Chin estimates only five per cent of graduates will go on to have a successful naturopathy practice.
She puts that down to competition with doctors using western medicine who have also adopted alternative therapies, and struggling to get started in a field where “there is not a lot of money” in the early years for those setting up a practice.
But she is reaping the benefits of a job she loves, even if it wasn’t her first choice.
“I grew up in Tasmania and needed to get out of there because it was too small for me, so I took the first course I got into which was an animal science degree in Melbourne,” Chin says.
“And I started that and got sick halfway through it, so I moved to London to get away from everything and took myself off all the medications doctors had me on and tried some natural therapies.”
Chin puts her severe depression at that time down to excessive doses of a western asthma medication affecting her brain and mood.
She now specialises in treating depression and anxiety in others through naturopathy.
Chin also treats patients with kinesiology, treating imbalances in the body’s energy system.
“I grew up on a biodynamic farm and my parents were into natural medicine, so it wasn’t unusual for me,” Chin says of studying for four years at the Australian College of Natural Therapies, where she met Capicchiano.
“And I loved it from the first day and thought, ‘why didn’t I do this from the beginning’ ?”
Fiona Chin believes naturopaths fall into two camps, “old-school practitioners” who often work from their homes and have little reliance on scientific testing methods, and “new-school” ones, like herself, who conduct a range of diagnostic tests.
“You get a high compliance rate from patients with this method because they like to have a management plan for their treatment and to see that it’s backed up with science.”
But whatever the practice style, those thinking of a career in naturopathy need a good bedside manner and a willingness to deal with people’s emotional issues as well as physical ones, Chin says.