3X4’s new Functional Medicine Practitioner Spotlight series features interviews with practitioners, consultants and functional medicine thought leaders to explore everything functional medicine practitioners need to know about successfully building, managing, and growing their private practice.
The following is an interview we recently had with Nisha Chellam, board certified internist and board certified in Integrative and Holistic medicine, founder of Holistic ICON.
What can you tell us about your practice?
NC: Holistic ICON was founded as a functional medicine practice in 2015 out of a need for both me as the physician and my patients to heal. Chronic disease and its management as it is, is burning out physicians and keeping patients sick. The vision for Holistic ICON was to educate and empower patients to their healing capabilities by bringing awareness to their environment. Connecting the interaction of their metabolic abnormalities and their genetic blueprint and helping them see the healing opportunities has been a game-changer.
Cardiovascular risk, diabetes, and metabolic abnormalities constitute 89% of the medical problems we face today. As an internist, I had been through almost 15 years of practice when I realized that we as a society are planning to establish a life on Mars, but our medical testing and approach have not changed in the last 100’s of years. The dogmatic telescopic approach had to change. Once I got trained in FM, I realized not only that disease is not inevitable, aging is not inevitable. So my whole mission is to make the journey of life filled with health and energy rather than be worn down with stress and inflammation.
This requires me to check the cells working (metabolic), Requirements (micronutrients), the body’s response (inflammation and hormones ) , the gut health, and its genetic wiring. Deep dive into these and look for healing opportunities and rebuild from within.
We are located in Michigan, currently offering Telehealth worldwide and in 11 states in the United States.
What surprised you the most when you started your practice?
NC: As much as people said they hate that the medical system does not help them and is treating only symptoms, they were not ready to spend time and money on their health. So when I switched off my insurance service, I lost 100% of my patients. Then I rebuilt my practice with a new group of patients who truly wanted to heal. Many of us love the thought of healing but you have to be truly ready to get into that space. Once I realized the reason a conventional system and a functional medical approach need to co-exist, it was easy for me to educate people. As physicians, we are educated to catch diseases early and help a patient live the longest despite the problem with the least amount of symptoms. Our focus in training as a conventional physician never addresses the healing from the disease. Yet in the world of information people are confused, and believe that they can go on to be diagnosed, and heal without any effort on their part. The education of many members has been the most rewarding part of my journey as a functional medical doctor, as it engages them to heal from within.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome as you built your practice? How did you overcome it?
NC: The greatest challenge has been education. There is so much information out on the world wide web and as I call it “Google University”, and people are looking for quick fixes. They tell me they want to be better in a day or two, having had their issues for at least two decades. Those of us who learn functional medicine realize that disease development is a slow process and so is health recovery. Getting to show people were all wired differently and the interventions that need to happen need to be personalized and more precise to their cell’s needs is a concept they do not hear often. The focus is outward on results – “what can you give me to make me better “ rather than what do I need to do so I can feel better.
Explaining to them the role a physician ( and their team) needs to play in their healing journey is to guide them with data, help them overcome obstacles to change, and keep these changes sustainable. This requires time, connection and trust. Building that level of patience and trust is the greatest challenge I face. The best way I have found to overcome it is to treat my existing patients with absolute dedication so results can speak for themselves and the message spreads that there is a better way.
What advice would you give to other practitioners considering launching their own practice?
NC: Connect to the why. Why do you want to practice this way? What joy does it bring you? What do you love about this approach? Once you establish this, identify the kind of person you would love to help. This is what they call the patient avatar. Do you help men or women? Do you enjoy working with a specific group because of your journey? What is your skill set that gives people the best results? Once you identify these it is easy to spread the message.
I identified long ago my passion and my skill set can help anyone reverse their metabolic syndrome. I love working with people who love food and who love to cook. They are jolly and love to enjoy life but compromise their health because they do not know another way. I love opening their eyes to a new way of thinking and living and it creates a great community of like-minded patients I get to work with and provide consistent results for.
What excites you most about the field of functional medicine?
NC: When the world is constantly talking about disease, disability, and dying, here is a field with a ray of hope. The fact that we can shift anyone’s cell health by education, testing, and empowerment is a paradigm shift I did not think could happen. Ask any physician in conventional medicine, their burnout is not the hours they work but the fact their patients are helpless in their disease management and never get better long term. Functional medicine gives you a blueprint that helps patients be engaged and work with you, if done well will lead to their recovery because they have been empowered. As I teach my patients, disease is what we get as a default for not focusing on health. With functional medicine, we focus on health creation, that disease ceases to exist. Much like there will be no darkness if there is light.
Where do you see your practice 5 years from now?
NC: As we work on reversing prediabetes and metabolic syndrome, I would love for Holistic ICON to create an ideal blueprint and incorporate simple steps for anyone to follow. The new evolving field of peptides also excites me and I hope to incorporate this into my knowledge of functional and lifestyle medicine. Five years from now, I see Holistic ICON as a place to reverse metabolic syndrome, a diet-neutral place, and incorporating all the evolving progress in the field of anti-aging medicine. A place where you as a patient or member can become the best doctor for you and that is YOU.