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.
What can you tell us about your practice?
TH: Almost fifteen years ago, as a health coach, I started a multi-practitioner virtual practice in the suburbs of Boston. We had a full practice with a waiting list for many years, focusing in particular on helping people with chronic autoimmune and GI dysfunction get to the roots of the disease dynamics in their unique cases. It’s such a blessing to see just how much disease can be reversed through the powerful combination of applied functional medicine and effective health coaching.
Science can show you keenly what is at play physiologically or biochemically. But if it’s not paired with sustainable lifestyle change, then the science is not going to have much of an impact on any person’s actual wellbeing.
I had the distinct privilege of being introduced to functional medicine near the beginning of my practice. As a systems engineer and long-time scientist, I intuitively embraced focusing on the body – and the environment in which its functioning – as one integrated, interconnected whole. You would never try to optimize the functioning of any system (e.g. a car, a semiconductor, a garden) without considering all the inputs, all the environmental variables, and how any possible localized dysfunction would logically affect the functioning of the whole. A stable system becomes unstable for a reason. One that can be found if we know where, why, and what to explore.
In 2011, I founded The School of Applied Functional Medicine to fill the gaps I encountered in my own advanced training. Many educational outlets offer solid education in functional medicine science. What many practitioners need, though, is that practical devil-in-the-detail wisdom in how to apply the science – and case after case after case of practice doing so. It’s critical in developing resilient capability and authentic confidence. Now it’s my greatest joy to support and empower thousands of practitioners around the world – at present from 70 different countries and 20 different professional modalities.
What surprised you the most when you started your practice?
TH: For one, the massive demand for what we offer. I want all aspiring functional practitioners to know and trust that there are so many people who are hungry to get educated, inspired, and empowered about actually reversing the disease dynamics in their body.
More importantly, even when I knew intellectually upfront what was possible, it was still so surprising and deeply gratifying to see just how much disease – how much suffering – can be eradicated (vs. having to be “managed”!) when we identify and address the root causes in a unique individual.
What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome as you built your practice? How did you overcome it?
TH: The scarcity of time.
I think one of the most common mistakes is waiting too long to build a team. I certainly did.
Overwhelm sets in quickly, and you can burn out before you establish solid momentum and profitability. We have to be willing to invest in hiring before we “need” (especially desperately need!) the help. Just because we “can” do the scheduling and the billing and the bookkeeping and the legal review and the intakes and the assessments and the Q&A support and the lab guidance and the follow-up (whew!), doesn’t mean we should. You want as much of your time as possible to be spent on your unique brilliance – those high-impact activities that You truly must do. If we want our practices to be deeply fulfilling, it’s key to hire a team early. Not just administrative help but other practitioners. Don’t plan to “figure it all out yourself” first and then hire someone later. That’s definitely a clear recipe for burnout! And I think anticipating that overwhelm is one of the reasons many people hesitate to even start a practice.
What advice would you give to other practitioners considering launching their own practice?
TH: In addition to hiring early, I think it’s so valuable to embrace a multi-modality team. For example, I believe every healthcare team needs a health coach, especially one trained in functional medicine so that everyone readily speaks the same language and can communicate efficiently. Initially this could be a strong referral relationship but hiring in-house over time can exponentially increase clinical results. I also encourage creativity in roles within the practice. Perhaps one person is an expert at intake sessions, another is the geek who loves functional lab interpretation, and another is gifted at patient education. Think about dividing roles across strengths for true teamwork vs. each practitioner trying to do it all for a group of patients. The standard, latter approach definitely yields more control but also less efficiency and effectiveness.
When you first start your practice, focus more on creating clinical success stories vs. building a big patient list. In fact, too much growth too fast can overtly get in the way of achieving optimal clinical results.
If you focus on really keen case assessment and helping people to make targeted, sustainable lifestyle changes (so they not only get well, but stay well), you absolutely will have raving fans. Then there is a natural generous reciprocity that inspires people to share their amazing experience with others. That gift can build a serious waiting list of qualified referrals who come into your practice already knowing what to expect! My point is that a couple dozen clinical successes early on can do the majority of your marketing (and your growth) for you.
What excites you most about the field of functional medicine?
TH: I believe it’s the approach that will fully transform healthcare – finally making it effective (and thus affordable). It’s inevitable. So it’s very exciting – and humbling – to be present and engaged with important history in the making. We will stop trying to apply the principles of emergency/acute Disease care to chronic/lifestyle Health care. It’s not working. It won’t work. We’ve been trying to make a hammer work where what we really need is a pair of scissors. Both are awesome tools but optimally used in completely different scenarios.
I also want to say ‘Thank You’ to everyone who’s doing this work now – or soon will be. Being a part of the initial industry transformation takes serious courage and commitment.
Where do you see your practice 5 years from now?
TH: Continuing to educate, inspire, empower, and provide community for more and more practitioners. There is so much care, love, teamwork, and evolution that this industry needs in order to grow into its destiny.