Dr Vicky Kotsirilos has a common set of question for her patients. “How often do you see the sun” is one of them. She will also ask about your sleeping patterns, your eating habits and other seemingly trivial questions.
However these questions are important because lifestyle factors are seen to be relevant by a new generation of doctors and, paradoxically, complementary medicine is being called upon to treat health problems often associated with our modern way of life.
An increasing number of doctors are transcending the “alternative vs conventional” medicine paradigm by incorporating scientifically-proven natural therapies into their practices. Instead of a pill they prescribe a herb or a walk in the park.
Integrative medicine has multiple benefits. It allows doctors to use the best of both worlds, traditional and conventional, while affording the freedom of choice to patients.
Dr Kotsirilos has embraced this form of medicine as a health practitioner and an educator.
Such is her belief in this form of medicine that she has established the Vicky Kotsirilos Integrative Medicine Grant endorsed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
Her new book A Guide to Evidence – Based Integrative and Complementary Medicine will be launched next year.
Only by talking to Dr Kotsirilos do you discover her belief that wisdom can be found in many places and that truth is not the exclusivity of one field.
It was refreshing to hear a medical practitioner talking about the power of the mind, the healing properties of herbs the importance of food – after all, it was Hippocrates who said “let thy food be thy medicine and thy medicine be thy food” – the effectiveness of acupuncture and other forms of complementary therapies.
According to Dr Kotsirilos not only is there enough evidence to back up centuries old practices but they are particularly effective in treating fertility problems, menopause, diabetes, skin conditions, breast disease, prostate disease, migraines, headaches and depression.
Dr Kotsirilos says that 99% of her patients have chosen her because she practices integrative medicine.
“Most people who come to see me love the natural therapies. But most importantly they love the fact that they have a choice” she says.
Her approach is so popular she stoped taking new patients long ago. Then again she only works part time nowadays.
She divides her time between keeping up with the latest research, her family and her farm where she raises cattle, geese and sheep.
Dr Kotsirilos came to integrative medicine through her personal and professional experiences. Her journey started when as a young doctor fresh out of uni she was confronted with the reality of the medical profession.
“As a young doctor I was working long, stressful shifts. I was chronically tired, I wasn’t getting enough sleep. It started damaging my health in many ways. So, yes, I guess you can say that being a doctor in a hospital was making me sick”.
Her job was running her life and dictating her lifestyle.
She decided to take a year off and spent six months travelling in Europe. Upon her return to Australia she took up yoga and meditation.
Meditation was the big breakthrough for her: it allowed her to work more efficiently, she was calmer and her sleep improved markedly.
It was at this point that she started having doubts about traditional medicine.
When she worked in a hospital for the elderly she observed a doctor treating patients with vitamin injections and getting them off non-essential medication.
Their health improved and the results were better than when they were popping pills.
Dr Kotsirilos didn’t need any further proof to start researching and enquiring into non conventional ways of treating an illness and improving physical and emotional well-being.
She took courses and gained qualifications on acupuncture, nutritional and environmental medicine, herbal medicine and hypnosis and counselling and put them in practice straight away.
She joined forces with her dentist husband and together they opened a combined medical and dental clinic where she started practicing integrative medicine.
She kept an open mind to her newly acquired knowledge and a close ear to the stores her patients would tell her.
She kept everything that worked and discarded anything that didn’t work whether that was a herb or a pharmaceutical product.
In 1992 she founded the Australasian Integrative Medicine Association (AIMA) and started to get in contact with other like minded doctors.
She was AIMA’s founding president for seven years and held various positions within the organisation. She is currently an honorary board member.
She has published articles on evidence- based integrative therapies and worked with her colleagues from various fields to develop courses for young doctors who, according to Dr Kotsirilos, are very interested in adopting this new wave of medicine.
Dr Kotsirilos points out that many therapies are not new. On the contrary they are very old. The difference is that now there is a growing body of evidence that proves their effectiveness.
“Take St John’s Wart for example” she says “it has been shown to be beneficial for mild to moderate and recently to major depression equal to antidepressants with less side effects. I believe it should be on the PBS”.
She also points out that “the mind is equally important as the physical, research supports that”. She practices what she preaches: she meditates every day and on her working days she takes a few minutes off during her lunch break to sit in silence.
When asked what she believes to be of outmost importance for a doctor she says with unwavering conviction “Listening to people and spending time with patients”.