Interview with Pamela Spence – Medical Herbalist
Pamela is a medical herbalist, writer and educator based in Scotland and a member of the prestigious National Institute of Medical Herbalists. She has been a regular contributor to LandLove Magazine, written and presented her own BBC online series on traditional herbal medicine and often pops up as a herbal expert in publications – most recently in OK! Magazine. She has run workshops in her native Scotland, Italy, Russia, Germany and Uganda and is part of the teaching faculty at the Betonica Medical Herbalist Training Programme in the UK and the Herbal Academy based in New England, USA. In industry, Pamela has been a consulted by Heath & Heather, Deep Heat, Potters Herbals and Napier’s. She is the sole herbal adviser to Twinings International and works closely with their NPD team.
Describe your business – what do you do?
I am a medical herbalist. That means I’m qualified to a similar level as a GP and an expert in plant medicine. I help people to understand what’s happening to their bodies when they experience ill-health and guide them back to being the best they can be. I do that in a number of ways. In my clinic I see patients on a regular basis and prescribe and dispense medicines that are tailor made for them. I also try to spread the word as much as I can with articles and making short factual films. My background is film and tv, so I love to get back into production from time to time. Then I teach – professional and lay courses – keeping herbal training alive is the only way we will ensure we will have herbalists in the future so that is very important to me. Lastly I advise the food and drink and cosmetics industries on how best to use herbs to get real results – rather than creating products that are all gloss and hype. I’m the Twinings’ herbalist and my first project with them, the Twinings Superblends range, hit the UK market in January. That was a big milestone for me.
What gave you the idea to start up your business?
When I started learning about herbal medicine I felt like I had found a calling somehow. I can’t really describe it. I threw in my hard won career in film and television production (much to my family’s horror!) and went back to studying fulltime. Had I realised it was a medically based degree I may never have taken the plunge! In production we were always under so much pressure and looking for alternative ways of staying well. Long hours and job pressure meant we never managed to get to the doctor – so I suppose that started me off on the path. Crew members would come to me for advice and eventually I decided to make the training formal.
Which aspects of your business did you need help with? Where did you get that help?
Actually I didn’t really ask for any advice starting out. It is only now – 11 years in! I have realised that the transferable skills I had have served me well but are no longer enough and so I went searching for some online groups where I could learn how to take the next steps. I also contacted my accountant and legal team to help me understand the skills gaps I had. I’m now in touch with my local Business Gateway and have a business mentor meeting coming up. I have really appreciated the online groups – Colleen Arneil, Jessica Killingly and of course Ruth.
What is the most rewarding thing about having your own business?
The sense of self-determination. Being able to choose how to do things. Stepping up and making decisions. Taking opportunities that really make my heart sing – like supporting the work of herbalists in other countries. I have a particular soft spot for Uganda where I’ve helped to run workshops for local healthworkers about the safe use of herbal medicine that can be grown in very rural communities. I also get a real kick out of helping people pull together all the different overwhelming symptoms and reassure them that there is a pattern to why they are happening. Not so much ‘don’t drink that coffee’ more ‘at the moment the caffeine in that coffee is doing this which is making you feel worse’. Seeing the lightbulbs go off is so rewarding. I’d say about two thirds of my patients are women, many trying to keep juggling all the balls while navigating their way through peri-menopause.
What has been the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge is definitely my work/life balance. I struggle with that a lot and often end up sitting up late at night working. However I’ve recently got some extra admin help and that is such a huge relief. I get enthusiastic and I want to do ALL OF THE THINGS – but I have to realise that with a young family I need to make sure my own wellbeing is tip top.
If you could go back and give yourself some advice, what would it be?
Stop worrying so much and just go for it. I spent a long time with one foot in my business and another in a steady job. I would have jumped earlier and taken the risk if I were to do it again. Recently my husband said to me – you’re not the apprentice any more. He’s right. Even a year ago I wouldn’t have thought of myself as a businesswoman. Now I’m comfortable with that title.
What are your plans for the future?
Right now a lot of my income is tied to the hours I can physically be present. So that I can expand my business and at the same time make sure I have enough family time, I am looking at ways of moving into online courses and passive income. I am excited about the future and I like that I’m not sure what opportunities it will bring. My mind is open to ideas and I’m getting better at saying yes – and no when I need to!