President’s report to the AGM 2020

Welcome to our 2020 AGM, we have been busy again this year and it is clear that AIMA, the peak body in Integrative Medicine, has made substantial progress in preparing and manifesting our strategy. A strategy designed to serve our members and the whole Integrative Medicine community. Here is some of what we accomplished the 2020 financial year:

Covid webinar series

In March AIMA launched a Covid-19 webinar series to inform, connect, inspire, and create community in this challenging time. Attendance was great, the talks, chats, and questions stimulating – we have loved the response and the growing connection within the IM community.


AIMA Advocacy has two broad areas of focus:

  1. Lobbying for and promoting integrative medicine in public and political spheres. AIMA, as you probably know, was a leader in the response to the MBA’s Public Consultation on introducing separate guidelines for unconventional, complementary and emerging treatments.  The collaboration that the public consultation generated was, and is, a real treat for us.  The integrative medicine community’s response to the MBA public consultation was unprecedented – 13,500 submissions were made.  Organisations and many very busy doctors and therapists came together to try to understand what the rationale for and the potential implications of the proposed guidelines could be and then how to respond to the MBA individually and collectively. The process was certainly time-consuming for AIMA but there was also enormous energy, generosity and community engagement.  We’d like to send a very special thanks to all who gave their free time to work on the steering committee and the many individuals and organisations who responded so brilliantly to the public consultation. As a result of this collaborative work an advocacy council has emerged, led by AIMA, bringing IM doctors and organisations from the IM community together to continue and broaden the communication about IM, ‘who we are and what we are trained to do’.
  2. Advocacy for the practitioner to safely and confidently practice IM. Our first focus is creating resources to support doctors under challenge from regulatory bodies. This is always a time of significant stress, angst, and often a distinctive feeling of solitude. We now have a group of lawyers and doctors working to develop a comprehensive offering for IM doctors including:
  • A library of supporting documentation and defences from previous investigations
  • Library of research papers
  • IM peers who can be called as assessors in regulatory investigation
  • Doctors to mentor others doctors under investigation

We believe that we can collectively build and sustain a community of practitioners that can bring IM into a solid and creative future. AIMA has had 2 rounds of EOI’s and we have a small, but growing, groups of mentors and IM peers for cases, we also have a number of volunteers with extensive libraries of IM research papers that they are willing to share as needed.

AIMA, MBA meeting in February 2020

In February this year AIMA held a round table meeting with the Medical Board of Australia (MBA).  The purpose of the meeting was to build a strong collaborative relationship with the MBA, to present the evidence-base for Integrative Medicine and to alert the MBA to the challenges that integrative medicine (IM) doctors face when under investigation.

Key to the meeting were the findings from a confidential survey of 23 IM doctors who were currently, or had recently, been under investigation. AIMA found that:

  • Many complaints were not conveyed in a timely manner
  • There was no consistency in how the cases were managed exposing potential procedural irregularities
  • The majority identified that the complaint was not assessed by true peers in the area of integrative medicine and often the treatments were not understood by assessors
  • The perception was that there was a lack of procedural fairness
  • All doctors reported serious effects on themselves, their families and their patients as a direct result of the notification/investigation process
  • Patients privacy and right to co-design their care was not respected

The MBA representatives gave us a clear overview of the medical regulatory environment in Australia.

The MBA expressed concern about the wellbeing of doctors who receive complaints and are seeking ways to destigmatise notifications.  This is particularly pertinent as:

  • 7% of all doctors had a complaint made against them in 2019
  • Complaints to AHPRA are growing by 15% per year.

Of these complaints 10% are made by other health professionals and 90% by the non-medical community.  The MBA stressed that doctors from many specialties are communicating that they feel singled out by regulatory processes – that this is not unique to IM.

AIMA suggested that having prompt timelines in handling complaints and holding early conversations with doctors before investigations were escalated would greatly reduce the stress doctors feel.  We are delighted that the MBA has since announced plans along these lines (see AIMA’s May newsletter).

This round table was a wonderful opportunity for clarity, transparency and building relationships – getting to know each other and potentially de-stigmatising areas that have been mis-understood.  The MBA expressed a willingness to work with AIMA – within the bounds of the MBA’s purview and while not advantaging or favouring IM over any other speciality.  To this end AIMA has been added to the list of organisations who the MBA will consult with annually for feedback.  This will be a forum for us to work together towards more informed processes and better outcome for IM doctors.

Present at the meeting were Anne Tonkin, Chair of the Medical Board of Australia and AHPRA Senior researcher, Sarah Harper.  The integrative medicine community was represented by Dr Penny Caldicott, President AIMA, Associate Professor Jennifer Hunter, Professor Stephen Myers, Dr Gull Herzberg, Dr Sandeep Gupta, Linda Funnell-Milner, AIMA board member and Cressida Hall, General Manager AIMA.

New Zealand

AIMA in New Zealand continues to thrive.  Our annual conference – From Genome to Microbiome: integrative medicine for everyday problems – was arguably our best one yet. The conference was well attended and supported with very encouraging feedback from attendees about the sharing of knowledge, the stimulating environment and the wonderful sense of community that is evident and growing each year.  Prior to the conference we held workshops on Bullying and Nature and Health.

The Auckland monthly meetings ran for the year until Covid intervened.  Attendance at these meetings has been steadily growing, building a strong sense of community in NZ.  We thank Jo Ewer, our NZ administrator for her great work in organising and running the conference and monthly meetings.  We also thank Dr. Dan Quistorff for curating the monthly meetings and give special thanks to the NZ AIMA committee, led by Dr. Tim Ewer, for their guidance and work.

Interprofessional communication module

The AIMA Interprofessional Communication Working Group completed their work on developing a comprehensive resource to build and facilitate communication between doctors and other practitioners including a rationale and a series of letter writing templates.  From this resource, we are building an education module.   Dr. Joanna Harnett has been conducting research at the University of Sydney to ensure that the resource is the best it can be.

We thank Dr. Jennifer Hunter and Dr. Joanna Harnett and the amazing IPC working group for their exemplary work on this resource.
Defining Competencies in IM for the IM training pathway

Over the past year, we have identified the need to better define what it means to be an integrative doctor.  This has been, in part, spurred on by the MBA Public Consultation, but it is something we’ve been defining and mapping for several years.  We know that we need to build understanding with the community, government and regulatory authorities about the skills and knowledge an IM doctor has and their unique place in treating and preventing chronic illness.  We believe that building this understanding will help to protect IM doctors from the recent vexatious and poorly informed notifications and complaints. By defining our skills and knowledge we hope to facilitate regulatory acknowledgment and acceptance of our practice.

The AIMA education committee has compiled a list of competencies for IM doctors.  We sought and received community input to ensure that these competencies are relevant and comprehensive.

Thank you to Cressida Hall, Stephen Myers, Leila Masson, and Gull Hertzberg for the many hours you’ve put into this.

During the year the AIMA board has been meeting monthly.  They have been a great source of guidance and strength for our organisation.  Thank you to Tim Ewer, Scott Goold, Tricia Greenway, Georgina Hale, Joanna Harnett, Leila  Masson and Linda Funnell-Milner for all of your hard work.  I’d like to give particular thanks to John Barker who resigned as treasurer at the AGM for his help in updating our financial systems. And a big thank you to Cressida Hall for her dedicated work, creativity, skills and humour, all of which not only kept AIMA on track but progressed each of our strategic goals and kept us in good relationship with all the relevant organisations and bodies that serve and regulate our community.

We would like to express our gratitude for the amazing support from our major sponsors BioCeuticals.  While we are on track for a robust sustainable AIMA, we cannot achieve our goals without the support of these organisations, the many individuals and the other for and not-for-profit organisations that we work closely with.