3X4’s new State of Functional Medicine series features interviews with a diverse range of active practitioners and established thought leaders to learn more about why they chose the field of functional medicine, what excites them most about their work, the most common misconceptions they hear from patients, and most importantly — how they see the field evolving in the years ahead as healthcare shifts to be more personalized, proactive, and preventative.
Functional medicine practitioners play a key role in helping patients understand who they are so they can improve their quality of life which is what we’re all about here at 3X4. Our goal with this new series is to celebrate the work these practitioners are doing and inspire others to explore the exciting field of functional medicine.
Why did you decide to make functional medicine your focus?
ZW: I’ve always had this inherent belief that “I am what I eat”. I worked many hours in the hospital setting which I valued, yet I would never really see patients improve and recover from conditions that I knew were preventable (i.e. diabetes).
As I went through school, I could see that I really aligned with the practice of functional medicine. In our clinic, we call this ‘root-cause’ medicine.
Who have been your greatest mentors in your functional medicine journey?
ZW: I’ve had a few colleagues within the community that have been a huge support to my knowledge. Some of these are personal friends like Dr. Kevin Bodling. Others have included doctors from the Institute for Functional Medicine, Dr. Alex Vasquez, Dr. Jeff Bland, and even current industry influencers in the space today.
What excites you most about your day to day work?
ZW: Currently my role sees me in the vision-casting and creation mode. I have a team that I work with whom we are out to increase the growth of our office, but also work with other providers who are seeking support in their own functional medicine journeys.
Working with a team that is excited to learn and grow to impact others on a greater scale is fun and rewarding.
What’s the most challenging part of your day to day work?
ZW: It’s always a challenge to deal with operation processes within the office. Managing those, as-well-as keeping the culture in a good place with the team, are the most difficult. Sure, you deal with difficult patients from time to time, but when you have a good team, these problems aren’t as big.
What do patients most commonly get wrong about functional medicine?
ZW: I feel there is still a misconception about functional medicine in that it is just ‘natural’ products in place of pharmaceuticals. I call this ‘green medicine’ It takes time to educate patients that even though they are here for their thyroid concerns, our treatment and lifestyle programs are whole-body focused. Like many layers to an onion, our body has many layers to function properly.
Also, there is always the misconception as to insurance and why it is not covered.
What’s holding the field of functional medicine back?
ZW: I feel having proper mentorship opportunities get in the way of doctors not growing or stepping out into functional medicine. It’s about more than just which test to run and which nutritional medicine to use. There are the business aspects, operations management, and marketing. Although we are health providers, in this space, we need to know how to do these well or we will not survive.
I’ve been fortunate enough to grow over the years in business knowledge and development and I feel that is why we have come as far as we have today.
What has your experience been with genetic testing?
ZW: Genetic testing gives me a way to show patients what chronic conditions they are more susceptible to. This is powerful as it helps patients know themselves in a way in which to be truly proactive in their life.
Genetic profiles also help guide my recommendations for those who need more support in certain physiological areas, like detox or hormone modulation.
How do you see the practice of functional medicine evolving in the years ahead?
ZW: Functional medicine clinics will become heavily focused on health and lifestyle coaching. Where the focus is not on the doctor or provider, but as the team that comes together to support wellness and prevention. Most consumers are very smart and want to take more control vs. just having their provider do it all. The true meaning of Pro-active medicine.
I also see it moving to more of an online presence to maximize efficiencies for time and value. There will still be a need for a physical space for procedures, therapies, etc., but a lot of the team support, coaching and even consults may move more to a virtual format.
About Zac Watkins
Dr. Zachary Watkins is the founder of The Livewell Clinic and Platform Health LLC. He received his Doctor of Chiropractic degree from Northwestern Health Sciences University. He is board certified as an internist through American Board of Chiropractic Internists (ABCI), and is also a Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS).
In addition to his board certifications, he has completed studies in Functional Medicine from Southern California University of Health Sciences and is DAN! (Defeat Autism Now!) Certified. He is an active member of the Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM).
Dr. Watkins’ goal is to help patients understand how they can optimize their health with regard to the most common conditions that are seen in his office: intestinal problems, hormone imbalances, fatigue, infertility, and auto-immune disorders.