BHSc MGHDS; Director, Acupuncture IVF and Pregnancy Support Clinic Alexandria
What is your role at your organisation and what is your main area of business / practice?
I currently divide my time between my role as Director and practitioner at The Acupuncture IVF and Pregnancy Support Clinic and my role at the NICM Health Institute at Western Sydney University, where I am involved in integrative medicine research and education development.
The Acupuncture IVF and Pregnancy Support Clinic is a niche Integrative Chinese Medicine clinic that focuses on reproductive and women’s health and pregnancy care. We are known for our collaborative, integrative and research-based approach to care.
How did you get into your area of expertise and why do you stay?
I first got interested when I was a teenager – a bit of a hippy and interested in health and natural medicine. When I was 18, I had some health issues that mainstream medicine couldn’t find a solution to, so I sought out Acupuncture. Acupuncture very quickly resolved my physical issues. It also helped me psychologically, helping me feel less anxious at a time in my life when I was experiencing high levels of stress. After that, I became addicted to Acupuncture; I regularly sought treatment and began reading the first-year textbook on Chinese Medicine and naturopathy to see which one I wanted to pursue. I began studying Acupuncture straight out of high school. I found that there was such a wealth of information in Chinese Medicine texts about how to treat women’s health issues such as irregular or painful periods, PCOS and endometriosis. I felt there was a gap in mainstream medical care in effectively addressing these disorders.
During my 4-year TCM degree, I was involved in many projects on women’s health. I was pleasantly surprised once I began working in the student clinic in my 3rd and 4th years. Everything I had been learning in class seemed to work in a clinic, and patients responded well to Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine clinic for women’s health conditions.
I was so inspired. Once I graduated, I opened a clinic in Victoria that focused on women’s health, particularly PCOS, amenorrhea and endometriosis. This also led to me treating many women undergoing fertility treatment, and I received frequent referrals from local OBGYNs.
After two years, I moved to Melbourne to gain more experience and began practising in a fabulous multidisciplinary Natural Fertility Clinic. This was a huge learning curve, and I learned a LOT over the next four years. Since that time, I have just loved watching women transform and thrive and be able to create their dream and their family.
When I moved to Sydney seven years ago to complete my masters, I met Jane Lyttleton (I already knew of her as I loved doing seminars with her). I was very patient… (for me), and eventually, after about a year of waiting, she offered me a practitioner role at the Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic. This clinic became my new professional home. It has many dedicated and knowledgeable TCM practitioners – leading the ship, of course, was Jane. I felt very privileged to work with Jane and still do. It’s been an incredible time of development in my life. My role at the Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic has evolved, but I have not looked back. I recently became the Director of The Acupuncture Pregnancy Group – five clinics located in Sydney CBD, Alexandria, Westmead, Gosford, and Melbourne. Jane has decided to step back from the Managing Director role. However, she remains, as I say, our spiritual leader. That won’t change.
What has been the main focus or outcomes of your research/work over the past year?
Over the last year, I have also been working on the Integrative Medicine Education Project at NICM Health Research Institute at Western Sydney University – a super exciting project led by Dr Carolyn Ee. In 2021, we completed a research project that interviewed and surveyed many Australian Integrative GPs to determine their Integrative Medicine (IM) education and practice needs. The results were published in 2021, and we used these results to help guide and develop IM education for GPs. We have now formally partnered with The School of Medicine at WSU to co-develop and run a course on GPs’ Advanced IM practice skills – this will launch later this year and be the first university-led IM course for GPs. We are thrilled to be a part of such a ground-breaking initiative and hope it is the first of many IM education initiatives run for medical professionals.
Last year, we were swamped at the clinic, helping supporting patients navigate fertility treatment through the pandemic. As the Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic Director, I often talk about IVF or fertility acupuncture to IVF clinics and doctors. I also usually have interprofessional workshops as a team where we learn from one another, revise research and short courses together. As a practitioner at an integrative acupuncture clinic, the rest of the team and I are always looking at the best way to deliver evidence and research-based IVF, fertility, and pregnancy care.
Also, as we are in Alexandria Specialist Day Hospital in Sydney, alongside IVF Australia consulting and procedure facilities, we work closely with IVF clinics and make a point of clear communication with other doctors our patients are seeing and integration with other treatment programs that our patients might be undertaking. I love working in the hospital as we often chat in the tearoom with IVF doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and embryologists about their side of IVF and fertility treatment. I love hearing their perspective and learning.
How has your field changed in the past 5 years?
More and more people, including doctors, are increasingly interested in Acupuncture, and having a collaborative and healthcare team approach. We have seen Acupuncture’s popularity increase significantly in the last five years, and it has gained more recognition as a profession. I feel Acupuncture is almost mainstream today.
What new areas are emerging? What do you predict will happen in the next 5 to 10 years in your particular field?
That is a good question. I feel that over the next 5-10 years, integrative models of care – the “how” we do it- and how we do it the best way possible (so no one steps on anyone’s toes and patients are completely cared for and have variety of treatment options and healthcare team). In my mind, that is the future.
I also think more education will start rolling out for both medical and complementary medicine practitioners on how to have a team-based approach to care, understand different healthcare modalities and perspectives, and work with one another and communicate effectively. This may be because it is my dream, and what I am working on in my own professional life, but I also think there is a massive trend and push from the community to have all health care practitioners and their team talking to one another and developing a coordinated approach. Patients want to have multiple providers of care and have them all communicate with one another about their care. The patient is no longer the piggy in the middle in the future I hope for.
From your session what do you want practitioners to learn / take-away or be more confident in?
The biggest takeaway I think will be how different perspectives can be really helpful in clinical practice, and in particular how the Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective on herbal medicine can be very valuable – as can many traditional medicine perspectives. A big part of what I think they take away is the need to really contextualise research to enhance herbal medicine’s clinical application. I also think practitioners will leave feeling more confident and inspired to create team-based approach to care, which is coordinated, collaborative and patient centred.
What is the number one-way natural medicine practitioners, can make a difference for their clients?
Ask them what they think, what they feel is best way to move forward, and get insight into what is and isn’t working for them before making treatment plan. Find out their WHY as well as what’s been holding them back from making changes. Then I would suggest you create a patient centred plan together and (if they are happy for you to do so) write a letter to their other health care providers let them know what you have discussed and ask if they have any input, feedback, or concerns. I feel like that is the way we could be and should be structuring our consults. I think healthcare and medicine has a lot of talented professionals however, I feel an attitude of “my way or the highway” gets in the way of delivering integrative and patient centred care. I wish more practitioners had the confidence to work collaboratively, and see the value of this, instead of having a defensive and competitive attitude towards one another.
What are the questions you get asked the most often in your field, and how do you answer it?
Does Acupuncture work? How does it work?
The million-dollar question. I just say, yes and share how it works both the biomedical and traditional explanations of the mechanisms.
Fun Fact for the Readers: Tell us who inspires you / or who your professional idol is and why?
Jane Lyttleton and Richard Branson.
Jane because she is so smart, works very hard, she is warm, generous and has so much integrity. She is unwavering and such a pioneer and leader in our field. I feel very lucky to know her and work closely with her.
Richard Branson because of his warmth, and his can-do attitude and creative thinking. Also, he is master of building incredible teams and fostering a culture of teamwork, it is inspiring!
About Amy Forth BHSc MGHDS:
Amy is a Chinese Medicine practitioner, educator and researcher with a special interest in IVF support, fertility, women’s health and pregnancy care committed to the development of integrative models of health care.
Amy is the Director of The Acupuncture Pregnancy Clinic Alexandria, an integrative acupuncture clinic that offers evidence and research-based IVF, fertility and pregnancy care located in Alexandria Specialist Day Hospital in Sydney, alongside IVF Australia. Amy has been in practice since 2008.