I frequently get asked to do talks on summits, podcasts, and master classes. I often speak about eczema, gut and skin health, and preventing autoimmunity in children. But aside from those, one of the most common topics I’m asked about is how to find an experienced functional medicine practitioner (we covered this a bit on this podcast).
And, I totally get it!!!
Finding a new practitioner can be difficult itself- let alone a well vetted functional medicine practitioner.
This space has blown up in the past three to five years, and it seems a little like the wild west.
Trying to decipher credentials, training, and experience can make your head spin.
I’m fortunate that I know many practitioners, so that if I need help for myself, a family member, or a patient that needs referral, I have a solid base to choose from. However, I’m in the dark as much as the next person when I don’t have a word-of-mouth recommendation or a person to refer to.
Truth be told, I kind of dread it.
Having a checklist of wants and needs can inform the process and make it much less daunting. Hopefully this information will guide you in your process 😊.
What To Look For
- What is their focus/specialty. If you have specific needs such as skin issues, gut issues, or cancer, you probably want to see a specialist rather than a generalist. They typically have experience treating a great number of patients with your concerns and needs which is important.
For example, our practice specializes in eczema and autoimmunity, but at the core of those issues are gut, hormone, and immune system imbalances. Every practitioner within the practice has extensive experience treating all of these areas.
We’re definitely not cancer specialists and would refer you to an appropriate practitioner if that was the reason you reached out to us. We know our strengths and focus on them!
2. Formal Education/Degree. The practitioner’s base education may vary depending upon your needs. If you are first beginning your healing journey and would like assistance with lifestyle coaching or tweaking your diet, then a health coach would likely suit you well. They are trained in walking people through those processes step-by-step.
Sometimes health coaches work alone or as part of a team. We have a few that we work with when we feel somebody needs a little extra help dialing in their diet or lifestyle.
When you have something more significant going on, like eczema, an autoimmune condition or IBS, you’ll likely want to work with a higher-level practitioner that has an advanced degree (preferably one where they’ve learned in physiology, biochemistry, pathology, differential diagnosis, etc.) plus Functional Medicine training. Doctoral, advanced nursing degrees, and physician assistants (MD, DO, DC, ND, DOM, DPT, DNP, APRN, PA etc.) will have the most extensive education with regard to being trained as a healthcare provider.
3. Functional Medicine Training. There are several organizations that train functional medicine providers as certifications or training programs.
These three have been around the longest and offer comprehensive training in Functional Medicine:
- Institute for Functional Medicine
- Functional Medicine University
These organizations teach specific versions of Functional Medicine
- Kalish Institute
- Kresser Institute
Many other organizations offer specialty training in hormones, immune function, environmental medicine, autism, etc. This is all great too! It means your practitioner cares enough to keep pursuing more knowledge to help people heal.
- Bonus Experience. Here is where a little extra digging might help you out. You never know what experiences someone might have that would make them and even better practitioner. Teaching, research, counseling, or even having rescued themselves from the corporate world might be to your benefit. There are many life experiences or jobs that might make a practitioner more well-rounded. One-on-one mentorships with experts are also a bonus.
5. Years Practicing Functional Medicine. This one is pretty obvious :). Experience is important. Ask the practitioner how long they’ve been practicing functional medicine. Really, FIND out how long they’ve been practicing!!! I’ve been burned by referring clients to new practitioners that really didn’t know what they were doing but their website made it seem otherwise.
In our practice, Dr. Tammy and I have over 30 combined years of clinical practice, and over 20 combined years of Functional Medicine practice. We’ve trained with the IFM, Kalish Mentorship, Seeking Health Educational Institute, and 1000’s of hours of continuing education courses and seminars on topics from gut health and autoimmunity, to hormone balancing and environmental toxins. Dr. Tammy also did a hormone mentorship program for several years.
1. Personality. Above all else, and almost as important as experience and training is personality. If the functional medicine practitioner you choose doesn’t resonate with your personality…RUN. You’ll serve yourself best if you find somebody you jive with. Your communications and outcomes will typically be better.
Think about it, would you marry someone you didn’t get along with?? This is an important relationship, much like a marriage.
2. Exploratory Call or Free Consult. This is your golden opportunity to learn more about the practitioners and the practice! You can find answers to the questions laid out above, as well as many other details that important to you. If you call or email a practice and they aren’t willing to give you any information, that might be a red flag. They should be willing to share some information with you.
Many practitioners do anywhere from 10 to 20 minute consults now so that you can see if they are a good fit or you, and likewise, you for them. An honest practitioner will tell you if they can’t help you or if your case doesn’t fit their practice.
We offer free 15-minute consults for this reason (click here if you’re interested).
Pro Tip: Write your list of questions out before you contact any providers you’re interviewing so you can compare all of their answers and find who is best for you.
Wishing you the best of luck on your journey!