What Makes a Medical Herbalist
Posted on 20th March 2018 at 15:50
People often ask what a modern Medical Herbalist is. This blog tells you how i trained and what that means for you. Believe me it's more than a weekend course and a pot of basil on the windowsill.
Well now, could it be the hippy clothes? Could it be the dandelions in the garden? Or wait! Could it be years of study, hours and hours poring over books and spending time every year making sure you’re right up to date with the latest research, reflecting on your practice and ensuring no stone is unturned?
Well in my case it started at 33 with the realisation that herbalism had chosen me rather than the other way round. I read books by Stephen Harrod Buhner, David Hoffman, Thomas Bartram and Rosemary Gladstar. I’d grown up with wild plants and a mother who despite being Dutch made sure she learned the English names so that I’d know them too. After my children were born I decided I’d try my best to use natural remedies for minor things so that when antibiotics were essential they’d work and I’d developed a love for natural health and medicine. Being a keen gardener helped too.
My training started with A level Biology and Chemistry and a foundation course in herbal medicine that was heavy on biochemistry, the study of the chemistry of the body and phytochemistry the study of the chemical actions that take place in the plant to help them develop the constituents that make them effective. Then I went to study at the College of Phytotherapy. Though one of the best schools in the country, the College of Phytotherapy sadly developed financial problems and closed at the end of 2005. Thankfully the University of East London which validated the degree took over our training and we moved to our new study home in Stratford East London.
At the university of East London I studied for and gained a BSc Honours in Herbal Medicine. Despite holding down a job, travelling from Nottingham to London three days a week and raising two small children I managed to attain a 2:1 which I’m still incredibly proud of. Aside from the time it took and the sacrifices made by my family my training and clinical practice cost over £50k and took five years in total. Money I had to earn because I wasn’t eligible for any kind of student loan.
During my course I studied the following modules
Biochemistry and Human Physiology (physiology is the study of how body parts work)
Embryology and Histology (The study of how an embryo forms and the anatomy and function of individual cells)
Dispensary skills (how to blend herbs, to ensure quality control and record keeping)
History and philosophy of herbal medicine
Evidence based medicine (ensuring that our practice is based on the latest medical and herbal research and how to find that information)
Clinical practice (the actual treatment of the patient. We were obliged to do a total of 500 hours of clinical practice starting with observation of experienced clinicians then moving to taking our own patients in years two and three. 1st year 100 clinical hours)
Another year of Human Physiology
Immunology (the study of how the immune system works)
Pathology (the study of how diseases happen)
Phytochemistry (the biochemistry of plants)
Materia Medica 1. (The first look at our medicinal herbs-what they are, what they contain and how and why they work)
Clinical Diagnosis (The skills needed to identify what condition/disease a person has. Ranging from physical examinations like using a stethoscope to listen to the heart or lungs to physical manipulation of limbs to work out what’s happening with the joints to how to ask a patient the right questions so they can give you the information you need)
Clinical Practice 2 (Finally getting to take a patient. 200 hours)
Clinical medicine (The art and science of diagnosing a disease or condition and formulating a treatment plan and administering that plan)
Counselling. (it might sound obvious but when you deal with people who may never have really faced what is wrong with them some counseling skills are essential)
Medical Microbiology the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases. In addition, this field of science studies various clinical applications of microbes for the improvement of health
Public Health and Hygiene (how to help people stay healthy)
Differential Diagnosis (How to work out which of a range of possible conditions or diseases a person may suffer from-including physical examination and questioning)
Materia Medica 2 (even more herbs to study)
Nutrition (we are what we eat. What do we gain from different foods and how do they affect our health)
Pharmacology (The study of pharmaceutical drugs and how they are processed by the body in order to have an affect-also how they interact with other drugs and with herbs)
Pharmacy (Medicine making-in this case herbal medicine making)
Clinical Practice 2 and 3 A total of 400 more clinical hours ending in a final clinical exam.
Herbal Therapeutics (The study of how to use herbs to help people become well)
At the end of all this we produced a dissertation or long academic project and we all sat a Final Clinical Exam.
The FCE was a nerve wracking experience which involved a full patient consultation while being watched by a GP and two experienced herbalists who were also lecturers at another university. We took a full medical history, performed physical examinations-the relevant ones for that patient and a range of others suggested by the lecturers at random to see whether we knew them, identified all the possible conditions that patient might have and then selected the most likely diagnosis from those available. We were then asked to write a prescription, suggest any referrals to other health professionals including whether they needed to be sent to see a GP and any lifestyle advice.
The FCE is designed to put a student under pressure so that it can be ascertained whether the student is safe as well as effective in a pressurised environment. This is the ultimate test of how safe a herbal medicine student is at the point of graduation. If you can do all of this under pressure then you’re unlikely to do anything stupid in the comfort of your consulting room.
I’m a member of the National Institute of Medical Herbalists. This means I have to adhere to a code of ethics and keep my medical and herbal knowledge up to date in order to remain a member. I have 6 million pounds worth of medical malpractice insurance and public liability insurance. (anyone is welcome to see my policy) and as a mark of how safe herbal medicine is my annual premium is less than £60!.
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