Kylie is treading an ancient path
Traditional Chinese Medicine might not be the first thing people think of when considering a career in the health industry. But for Kylie Freemantle, a chance encounter led her to the ancient method. After only a few sessions she was convinced, with her passion eventually leading to her opening Bendigo Chinese Medicine.
Born in Bendigo, Kylie spent her early years in Melbourne and Wodonga, before returning for high school. “I don’t know that I necessarily had any career ambitions,” she said. “I knew I liked sciencey subjects, and so I tended to gravitate towards those. I liked the arts side of things as well, but I didn’t think I had enough talent to do anything with it, so I stuck with the science.”
While undertaking an arts/science degree at Monash, Kylie realised she wanted to work in health and with people. “It was only by pure chance that I came across the Chinese medicine course,” she said. “I was looking at doing things like physio or chiro and I happened to come across it. And it had always been something that I had found interesting whenever it came up, but I had no idea that you could study it.”
Kylie went to try out some acupuncture before committing to the Bachelor of Applied Science (Chinese Medicine) course at RMIT. “I used to get tension headaches pretty much every exam period,” she said. “I basically managed it with Mersyndol, but they never went away. So I had a few sessions of acupuncture and some Chinese herbal pills. Since then – that was 20-something years ago – I’ve had one tension headache at an incredibly stressful period of time. That is it, and it’s amazing the difference. So that’s when I knew.”
After completing her studies, which included a clinical internship at the Nanjing University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China for the final year, Kylie sought to break into the industry. “When I first graduated, I was lucky enough to get some student observation hours with a practitioner in Melbourne, Steven Clavey, who’s a gynaecologist in Chinese medicine,” she said. “He was brilliant. I did a few weeks and then he offered me a job as a herbal dispenser, so I learnt an awful lot from him.”
Kylie hit a roadblock when it was time to go out on her own. There were no jobs going, and no-one had a room to rent for what she wanted to do. So, with no other way to use her qualification, Kylie opened Bendigo Chinese Medicine in 2003.
“I had no intention of ever opening my own business,” she said. “I still don’t want to run my own business, to be honest. But there was no option. It was either do that, or go and work at an admin position or something that was completely unrelated. And so I kind of had to do it. I could have considered working as a dispenser down in Melbourne, but that wasn’t what I was trained to do, that wasn’t what I wanted to do.
“Basically, it was do it or don’t end up in the industry, which is what happens to a lot of people. You have to have a real bit of go about you to really take that leap.”
In order to make ends meet while the business was being established, Kylie had to find other ways to earn money. “I was working in Melbourne with Steve at the same time and, as I got busier here, I dropped back,” she said. Tutoring at RMIT and waitressing in Bendigo also helped.
“I was working heaps of jobs just to get myself going,” Kylie said. “And that’s a lot of work, and sometimes I think it’s easier to go into a job where you’re paid to start with. And when you get comfortable with that, you’re used to it so it can be hard to change from that.”
Starting her own business was a massive challenge. “You don’t go to uni and learn how to start a business in the course that I’ve done,” Kylie said. “I did do the NEIS (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme) program when I first came out of uni. That was really good, that gave you a little bit of a background as to things to look at and what to do. I was doing it regardless, but it probably just helped with the direction of how to actually do things and where to go for different resources.”
Kylie and her husband, Matthew, welcomed daughters Lilli and Matisse in 2006 and 2009. Maternity leave and her return to work brought about a new set of challenges. “I went back to work after my second child and had six months at work, two days a week, but during that financial year I earned $600,” she said. “So there’s points in time where it can cost you money to actually have the business. But I knew I had to keep going, so that was incredibly stressful, and hard, but it’s been worth it.”
While there were only a few Chinese medicine practitioners around when Kylie opened the business, it has increased in popularity in the years since. “I think also certainly attitudes of doctors and other health professionals have perhaps changed over the past few years,” she said. “We certainly get doctors now that will actually refer to us for treatment. They’re becoming more open I think.”
“We probably would have about 30 new patients a month come through, which is pretty good. That’s basically what we find works well to maintain. But I mean the idea of what we do is not to have someone come, come and come forever, so you still need the new patients there too.”
To add to her expertise in the field, Kylie completed an Advanced Diploma of Japanese Acupuncture in 2012. “I found that I got to a point where I went, there’s bits missing, there’s holes in what I know and what I want to know, and so that was why I did the Japanese acupuncture course,” she said. “And that filled in a lot of the holes there for that part of it, which was great, gave me a deeper understanding.”
“Basically, when you go to uni – and I say this of any course – you learn the foundations and then you’ve got to get out there and learn more. And you tend to find your pathway as to what works and what doesn’t.”
The best part of the job for Kylie is when people get something they haven’t been able to get elsewhere. “When they get results after a hard, long journey that they’ve been through, and you’ve been able to offer them some help with that, that’s the best bit, hands down.”
Working within your limits and alongside other health practitioners is an important part of the job, according to Kylie. “I believe that every treatment style has something to offer, it’s a matter of knowing what the strengths are in those,” she said. “And if they’re stronger in a particular area than you are, tell people. Don’t try to be everything to everyone.”
“I think you need to know your strengths, and other people’s strengths. But, most importantly, know your weaknesses. Because if you can’t do it, people aren’t going to be overly happy with you if you just string them along.”
Something Kylie has had to learn along the way is how to balance career with family life. “I’m having to make a couple of decisions as to what I do and don’t want to do in terms of extra things,” she said.
“I think the biggest thing that I keep coming back to is that you really need to work out where you want to go. And if the things that you’re taking on aren’t helping you to get where you want to go, is it really worth it? Because otherwise you end up just putting so much load on yourself. And that doesn’t matter whether it’s personal, professional, career etc. I had kids because I like kids and I want to spend time with them and I don’t want to miss out on them growing up.”
Photography – Kate Monotti Photography
Contributor – Andrea Byrne
© beStella 2017. All rights reserved