When Cairns resident, Serena Booy, enrolled to study in the Bachelor of Complementary Medicinedegree at Endeavour College she already had her sights firmly set on supporting Papua New Guinean communities in Far North Queensland. Although Serena’s thirst for knowledge about natural medicine was initially borne out of being diagnosed with cervical cancer in her early 20’s, it was her experience of living and working in Papua New Guinea (PNG) for 15 years that sparked her interest in multicultural health promotion. "In PNG I saw the need for an affordable, accessible and sustainable health care system that bridged the gap between the existing conventional health care system and the local people’s use of traditional medicines," Serena said.It was not long after Serena and her young family moved from Australia to PNG for her husband’s work with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that her son contracted dengue fever and pneumonia. After the local hospital was unable to provide medication to treat her son, Serena sought out the advice of women within the community who were happy to share their knowledge of traditional remedies. After experiencing the challenges faced by people living in rural and remote parts of PNG firsthand, Serena wanted to do something to help improve health outcomes for those communities. "In PNG there are large groups of people who don’t have access to adequate healthcare due to geographic, financial or cultural reasons. I saw the need for sustainable action through preventative health promotion, early checks and diagnosis particularly in addressing conditions such as HIV, cancer and diabetes," Serena said. While still living in PNG Serena completed a certificate in Human Nutrition and a Foundation Diploma in Natural Health, but on returning to Australia in 2015 wanted to deepen her knowledge so enrolled to study Endeavour’s Bachelor in Complementary Medicine degree online. "Because I was living in Cairns and working at the time, being able to study online gave me the flexibility to plan around my work schedule. I also received recognition for prior learning from my previous studies which helped me fast-track some areas of my studies but with the flexibility to go at my own pace," Serena said. Attracted to Complementary Medicine through her own experience of trying to find a balance between Western and natural medicine approaches to her own cancer treatment, Serena was hungry to learn more about how dietary and lifestyle changes can support patients undergoing conventional medical treatment. "I really enjoyed the breadth of knowledge across natural medicine modalities taught under the umbrella of Complementary Medicine. The fine balance of topics – ranging from anatomy and physiology to traditional Chinese medicine, nutrition, naturopathy, acupuncture, musculoskeletal therapies, homeopathy and public health – make this a really well-rounded course for anyone wanting to work in areas outside clinical practice such as public health promotion and administration, behavioural support programs, government policy-making and niche areas such as oncology support to name a few," Serena said."Whether you want to work in oncology support or public health, the Complementary Medicine degree gives you a comprehensive understanding of everything from mindfulness and relaxation techniques for mental health, to dietary and lifestyle advice to support conditions such as diabetes, and acupuncture for pain management in cancer patients," Serena said. Through her studies, Serena also opened herself to a world of possible career options and a network of other health practitioners who may be part of her future work goals. "I knew that my true passion lay in preventative medicine and health promotion rather than following a traditional hands-on practitioner role. The Complementary Medicine degree helped me realise my dream to launch Pacific Integrative Health in May 2018," Serena said. "While studying Complementary Medicine and working part-time in pathology, I also undertook a small business management course and then decided to ‘just put it out there’ and launch Pacific Integrative Health with the aim of supporting the large community of expatriate Papua New Guineans living in Cairns and Far North Queensland," Serena said. With strong connections to expat communities through her time living in PNG, Serena has achieved a lot in a short time through reaching out to the local council, multicultural festival organisers, private business owners, Tropical Public Health Service and various cultural groups within the Cairns region. As a result of her work with Tropical Public Health Service in promoting the health risks associated with the consumption of betel nut, particularly amongst young children living in Far North Queensland, sale of the drug is now banned in public places. With a few wins already under her belt, Serena has undertaken further studies in a Post-Graduate Certificate in International Health and Development. "I’ve put Pacific Integrative Health on pause while I’m finishing those studies, but my long-term plan is to re-launch with a focus on health promotion and disease prevention. A good friend, who graduated as a naturopath last year and is also passionate about providing healthcare to minority and disadvantaged groups, may join me," Serena said. Natural Health HeroesNatural Health Heroes celebrates the wellness journeys of our alumni. From where they began to where they are today, we showcase our alumni’s unique stories, experiences and successes.Interested in reading more Natural Health Heroes stories? Head here for more.