The field of healthcare is ever evolving. Over the years, different branches of medicine – such as osteopathy, homeopathy, and chiropractic – have developed in order to address perceived needs. These branches are intended to complement the more “conventional” (also called “allopathic”) approach to medicine, although they may not be well respected by practitioners of the conventional medicine model. From the perspective of functional medicine, these and other complementary approaches have value, as they facilitate healing in a patient-centered way, taking the entire patient (mind/body/spirit) into account during examination, diagnosis, and treatment. This aligns with the functional medicine model.
In an effort to do justice to the descriptions of conventional medicine and functional medicine, I will cite respected institutes by which they are embraced.
What Is Conventional Medicine?
According to the National Cancer Institute (which embraces conventional, allopathic, medicine), allopathic medicine is “a system in which medical doctors and other healthcare professionals (such as nurses, pharmacists, and therapists) treat symptoms and diseases using drugs, radiation, or surgery. Also called biomedicine, conventional medicine, mainstream medicine, orthodox medicine, and Western medicine.”
What Is Functional Medicine?
According to The Institute of Functional Medicine: “Functional Medicine addresses the underlying causes of disease and engages both patient and practitioner in a therapeutic partnership. It represents an evolution in the practice of medicine and effectively addresses the healthcare needs of the 21st century. By shifting the traditional disease-centered focus of medical practice to a more patient-centered approach, Functional Medicine considers the whole person, not just an isolated set of symptoms.”
A Personal Journey of Discovery
My journey as a nurse practitioner began more than 30 years ago. Conventionally trained, I am licensed and board certified, and I have an extensive educational background in pharmaceuticals, physical assessment, diagnosis, and treatment. I was taught how to treat illness by prescribing pharmaceutical medications, including controlled substances. Although I soon discovered healing modalities outside of my conventional tradition that answered more questions than did my academic preparation, I was destined to spend more than a decade practicing within the confines of conventional medicine, though my spirit felt stifled. I knew intuitively there was so much more I could offer my patients – if only given the freedom to do so.
Most of my patients at that time did prefer the conventional medical approach. Perhaps it was because they didn’t know there were other options, or maybe it afforded them the luxury of deferring to the authority of their providers. I still don’t know the answer, but I did notice that my patient population soon began to change. It grew into a group of individuals who preferred to have a say in their wellness journey. Patients labeled “non compliant” by conventional medical doctors were then referred to me, the nurse practitioner willing to facilitate anyone’s wellness journey as a partner, embracing personal preferences, answering questions and teaching. My approach was patient-centered, evidence-based, and culturally sensitive.
By 1991, Jeffrey Bland, Ph.D., became known as “the Father of Functional Medicine.” Once 1999 rolled around, I recognized this patient-centered, systems-based approach was exactly what I was piecing together on my own. Fast forward another two decades, after attending lectures and symposiums, continuing education events, and reading case study after case study documenting the success of this approach, I felt confident I could offer patients in my hometown this option for re-establishing their balance and wellness. Part of my approach is to build wellness teams to address all aspects of the patient, including mind, body, and spirit. That is, I offer my patients referrals when they present with needs outside my field of expertise.
I teach my patients that the human body is designed to self heal. My patients learn how to read their own body’s unique communication, recognize the value of pain (and how to appropriately address it), and how to use lifestyle choices to facilitate their healing journey.
Stay tuned for more information about functional medicine and how it might help you regain balance. Here’s to your continuing healing journey!
Dr. Nancy Iankowitz is a board certified family nurse practitioner and Director of Holistic and Integrative Healing, LLC. She is also host of “Marcy’s World”on Pawling Public Radio. Email your questions and comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org. For more information, call (917) 716-6802, or visit www.driankowitz.com online.