My Career: Owner of Comhar Acupuncture and Wellbeing, Dr Fiona Barry

Name: Dr Fiona Barry

Age: 47 since the New Year. But I started counting backwards at 40 so really I’ve just turned 33.

Lives: Midleton, Co. Cork

Job title: Practitioner of Chinese Medicine, Owner of Comhar Acupuncture & Wellbeing, Examiner for Conventional Medical Sciences at The College of Integrated Chinese Medicine, Reading, UK.

Education background: A joint honours degree in Biomedical Sciences (Biochemistry & Haematology), a PhD in Pharmacology (both UCC), a licentiate in Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine (College of Integrated Chinese Medicine, UK). Continuing post graduate courses, including; Diploma in Therapeutic Massage, Qualifications in Abdominal Acupuncture, Master Tung Acupuncture, Face Reading, Gua’ Sha, Master Tung Blood Letting, Male & Female Infertility, Female Reproductive Disorders, Facial Acupuncture, Dermal Rolling and Micro Needling Therapy.

Hobbies: 2018 is the year I’ve decided to get a better work/life balance in place. I love spending time with my family. I have two great kids that make me laugh and see life as it should be; spontaneous, uncomplicated and fun.

I love anything to do with using my hands and creativity, so baking, cooking and painting ceramics are all pretty high on the list. I also enjoy walking, gardening, reading, singing, yoga and pilates.

Describe your job in five words: Rewarding, diverse, interesting, complex, skilled.

Describe yourself in five words: Friendly, caring, passionate, dedicated and motivated.

Personality needed for this kind of work? First and foremost you need to be passionate about helping people, so you need to be approachable, understanding and caring. The people that come to see me are all ages, from all walks of life, and all have different issues. Often they are emotionally and/or physically quite fragile. It is important to be compassionate and make the person feel like they are being listened to and heard. A lot of the time they are at the end of their tether.

When treating patients you need to be focused, in touch with the patient’s needs and responses, respectful, gentle and have the ability to think on your feet.

It also helps to have a passion for learning as you constantly need to adapt and grow with the continuous developments and discoveries within both Chinese and Western Medicine.

How long are you doing this job? I qualified in 2004. I opened my first clinic in 2005 in Castlebar, when we came home to Ireland. I took a break when we moved back to Cork to help my husband set up his dental practice, and also because by then we had two children.

I kept my hand in by doing a couple of days a week in a physiotherapy clinic and treating family and friends from home. I then returned more full-time to acupuncture about six years ago.

How did you get this job? I started third level education in CIT, where I studied Medical Laboratory Science. In my final year a new Biomedical degree was launched as the result of a collaboration between CIT and UCC. I made the decision to carry on my studies and graduated from UCC with a joint honours degree in Biochemistry and Haematology. I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do.

I was lucky enough to be approached by one of my lecturers at that time and offered a PhD project with him in the Department of Pharmacology & Therapeutics based in CUH. I was awarded my PhD in 1998.

I moved to the UK where I did a year’s post- doctorate in Babraham Institute, Cambridge, before moving south and commencing a five year post-doc’ in the University of Reading. It was during my time there that I really started to question what I was doing.

I started to think again about going back to college to study Medicine. I was particularly interested in the area of gynaecology and obstetrics. But something just didn’t feel quite right about taking this path. It was then I started thinking seriously about acupuncture.

I discovered that one of the most prestigious acupuncture colleges in Europe, the College of Integrated Chinese Medicine (CICM), was sitting right there on my doorstep in Reading, and was accepted on to the three and a half year licentiate course at the college.

The course was hard work, I missed a lot of nights out and holidays but never regretted it for a moment. The standard was very high and it is now a degree course in association with King’s College, London.

Six months after graduating we returned to Ireland where I opened my first clinic. I was sad to hand it over when we made the decision to move back to our native Cork. By then I was expecting our second child and after having him, I threw myself into helping my husband establish a new dental practice here in Midleton. I continued to practice acupuncture on a part time basis. During this time, I sat on the Subcommittee for Herbal Medicines with the Health Products Regulatory Authority (formally the Irish Medicines Board) and did so for over three years.

As my husband’s practice went from strength to strength I took a step back and once again turned my focus to my passion. I was asked to join a physiotherapy clinic in Ballincollig and took a room there, initially for two days a week. Within a year and a bit, it was obvious I needed to expand. I either needed extra days or more than one room. So, I made a leap of faith and went out on my own. I created my own brand, Comhar Acupuncture & Wellbeing. ‘Comhar’ is an Irish word meaning ‘working in partnership’ or ‘working towards a common goal’. My daughter cleverly came up with the strap line ‘Centred On Making Health A Reality’, which obviously spells ‘COMHAR’ and epitomises the aim of my practice.

Three months after going out on my own in Ballincollig, I opened up a room in Midleton. My husband had a spare room in his dental practice so I decided to convert it and see if there was a market for what I do in East Cork. This was only in January last year and seven months later, in July, I opened up the doors of Comhar Acupuncture & Wellbeing in Midleton. I have three treatment rooms there and it’s a beautiful space. I have started to recruit other therapists in both clinics as my dream is to have two multidisciplinary clinics, where people can come and be offered a variety of therapies under one roof by a group of healthcare professionals. I already have a Massage Therapist, Nicola Doherty, with me in Ballincollig and the lovely Annemarie O’Reilly, a Homeopath, in the Midleton Clinic. And I’m anxious to expand, so if there are any interested therapists out there…

2017 was a big year for me and 2018 is set to be even bigger. As well as looking to expand my clinics with other therapists, I’ve also just launched a new Facial Aesthetics line of treatments, including Facial Acupuncture, Dermal Rolling, Facial Gua Sha and Cupping and Micro Needling Therapy (MNT).

To further enhance the treatment and supplement the effects of it, I’m currently in talks with the wonderful Iarla Ryder, creator of Ríona Beauty Products — made only with natural ingredients, which is exactly what I want. So, together Irla and I are creating a range of products that will be exclusive to Comhar Acupuncture & Wellbeing. I will use these products for my facial treatments and they will be available for the client to purchase as well. I’m really excited about this as Iarla is extremely talented, her products are amazing and I think it’s fantastic that two local businesses are collaborating. My husband, Dr Niall Sharkey, has also come on board for the Facial Aesthetics Clinic and provides anti-wrinkle treatment and dermal fillers.

I took on a role as a corrector and examiner for the Conventional Medical Sciences Module of the Chinese Medicine degree at CICM so I expect I’ll be busier with that too.

Do you need particular qualifications or experience? Unfortunately, like many other healthcare professions, there is no proper regulation for acupuncturists in Ireland. Anyone, from the GP that does a two week course to the physiotherapist or chiropractor that does a weekend course in dry needling, can call themselves an acupuncturist or say that they practice acupuncture.

Unfortunately, the general public don’t know enough to know the difference or to ask the relevant questions to ascertain someone’s qualifications. As a general rule, you should always look for a ‘licenced’ acupuncturist as this indicates the person has an appropriate amount of study behind them.

How many hours do you work a week? On average about 50 hours a week.

Best bits: Watching patients take back their health and start living life again! While I treat a whole plethora of conditions with acupuncture and other techniques, such as Gua Sha, Cupping, Massage, Moxibustion, Herbs and dietary and lifestyle advice, the volume of patients that I see for fertility, both female and male, has grown organically over the last couple of years. I would say at least 50% of my patient base, if not more, is now fertility and gynaecological in nature. I seem to have a very high success rate, thankfully, and nothing beats that moment when a couple tell you they are pregnant with your help, either naturally or through IVF! I have laughed, jumped up and down and cried with patients when they have told me. I feel very privileged to be part of that momentous and very personal journey and of course I love when I get a cuddle or two nine months later. I am blessed.

Worst bits: If treatment doesn’t work for a patient! On the odd occasion when this happens I always try to look at different treatment options for the patient and refer them to the right person but it is difficult.

On a totally different note, it can be difficult to deal with how dismissive many people are about what I do, both conventionally trained medics and even the average person on the street. It’s slowly changing but it’s still a struggle sometimes, particularly if I know it is coming from a place of ignorance. I probably find it especially frustrating because of all my training and years in biomedicine.

The course was hard work, I missed a lot of nights out and holidays but never regretted it for a moment.