Functional medicine stands in stark contrast to conventional, "dysfunctional" medicine. Patients often complain of three things when they go to a conventionally trained doctor.
1. "They didn't spend any time with me"
2. "I don't think they really listened to me/understand what's wrong with me"
3. "All they did was give me a prescription"
As a functional medicine doctor I have the luxury of spending a great amount of time with my patients. This is why I have to operate as a cash-based practice- I'm simply not willing to sacrifice the quality of my care to fit into the insurance system. I'm a square peg in a round hole. I think that given the choice, any doctor would like to spend more time with their patients. The sad reality is that they are stuck in a broken model.
Okay, so now that I've sold you on functional medicine (humor me here) your next logical question should be "how do I find a functional medicine doctor near me?" And that's where the problem arises. There is really no reliable way way (as of now) to find a good functional medicine doctor, partially because there is no one way to receive training in functional medicine. While there are some groups that are attempting to correct this problem, they each have their quirks and draw backs.
1. The Institute of Functional Medicine is the best known FM group right now. They teach a hand full of seminars around the country each year which are largely attended by MDs and DOs. The problem with finding a doctor through their website is that they only list doctors who have taken their courses which are 1. incredibly expensive and 2. not very good (yes, I have attended some of their classes). The vast majority of doctors on this website are MDs and DOs who, in my opinion, typically only have a very basic understanding of nutrition and functional medicine. Don't be fooled by the fancy titles- most of the time DCs, NDs and LAcs who do functional medicine blow the functional MDs and DOs out of the water.
2. Functional Medicine University is an online program that teaches FM. I have no personal experience with FMU, but have heard that it is good. Again, doctors can be listed here only if they have completed the FMU program.
3. The Academy of Functional Medicine is pretty good- I have done a few classes with them and plan to do more in the future.
4. One of the best ways to receive training in functional medicine is through laboratories and supplement companies. The problem is that there is no way to track this and make a database of doctors online. Another potential problem here is that these seminars will almost always have some bias. Reading research articles, books and blogs, watching lectures, and shadowing other doctors are also great ways to learn FM, but again, these methods of learning are nearly impossible to track.
5. There are a few functional medicine degree programs now (or at least nutrition programs with a strong FM foundation). None of them have doctor locators (that I know of), but all seem like excellent programs. They include: The Western States MS in Human Nutrition and Functional Medicine, the NYCC Masters in Applied Clinical Nutrition, and the Hawthorne University Masters in Holistic Nutrition.
6. Two websites, Primal Docs and Paleo Physicians Network, are good resources to find paleo-savoy doctors. Many of these doctors do some degree of functional medicine, but there is definitely a great range in skill here. As someone who regularly participates in these groups' forums I can tell you that a Primal Doc is almost certainly more functional than a "normal" doctor, but you still need to be choosey. I've gotten some really impressive responses to questions and comments when interacting with this group, and I've gotten some real duds!
The problem is that there are numerous places where one can learn functional medicine and that everyone's definition FM is slightly different. To some, it's putting people on the paleo diet. To some, everybody has heavy metals and needs chelation. To some, such as myself, we try to really dig to the root cause of everyone's problems and take it from there.
The reality is that anybody can say that they do functional medicine, just the same as anybody could say that they do the trapeze. When shopping for a functional medicine doctor I recommend you take the following steps:
1. Read up on them! Does this doctor have a blog? Twitter? Facebook? Google+? Youtube? All of these will give you valuable information about how they define and use functional medicine.
2. Talk to the doctor via phone, skype or email. This will almost always give you a good assessment of their personality and treatment approach.
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3. Ask them where they received their training!
I have done much of my training at seminars with supplement companies (Apex Energetics, Xymogen, Designs for Health, Biotics, Orthomolecular, and many more) and laboratories. I have also done a lot of training with individual presenters (Dan Murphy, James Chestnut, Datis Kharrazian), study groups, reading text books and current research articles, webinars, and shadowing other physicians. I am constantly attending seminars, reading, and participating in professional forums to further my understanding of the human body. I have also received my certification as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner (NTP) from the Nutritional Therapy Association.
If you or somebody you know is interested in working with a functional medicine doctor please call my office at (919) 238-4094 and see if we are the right fit for you. Infinity Holistic Healthcare is located in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, part of the Raleigh-Durham "triangle" area.