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A Nurse's Blueprint to Mastering Functional Medicine: Getting the Foundations, Deep Dives, and Continuing Education

As nurses, we are on the front lines of healthcare, witnessing daily the effects of chronic diseases on our patients. With more and more patients seeking personalized care, our roles are expanding, and with this, our need for comprehensive, integrative approaches to health and healing. Functional medicine offers a promising path forward, aligning closely with the principles of holistic nursing by emphasizing personalized care and treating the individual, not just the symptoms. But where does one start, and how deep should one go into this emerging field? Almost daily I have conversations with nurses trying to decide what their functional medicine education journey might look like, and the answer really depends on your professional goals.


Get a Solid Foundation in Functional Medicine


The journey into functional medicine starts with a strong foundation. For nurses, this means choosing an education program tailored to the unique perspectives and skills of nursing professionals. This is where a specialized course designed specifically for nurses, such as the one I developed and teach through the Integrative Nurse Coach Academy in partnership with the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), becomes invaluable. This course was crafted with nurses in mind, providing solid foundational knowledge of functional medicine within the context of nursing practice and patient care.


Prior to developing the Functional Medicine for Nurses™ course, I had taken many different functional medicine courses including two full programs. I found what was missing was the nursing language. And I was spending so much time in courses listening to foundational nursing principles, because other types of practitioners needed to hear it to apply to their functional medicine practices. So much of functional medicine is truly holistic nursing practice, and I found the parallels to be truly exciting and restored my own excitement for my nursing career. With my passion for nursing education, I wanted to find a way to translate functional medicine into something other nurses could relate to, and the Functional Medicine for Nurses™ course was born.


Consider a Deeper Dive


Many students complete the course and feel fully prepared to call themselves a functional nurse and start incorporating functional medicine principles into their current nursing practice. Towards the end of the course, some of my RN and NP students often wonder "what next?" Fortunately, the field is growing rapidly, constantly evolving with new research and insights. While there is currently no nursing board certification in functional medicine, IFM stands out as the premier resource for deeper education and certification. Their program is rigorous and comprehensive, providing a pathway for those nurses who wish to dive deeper and become fully versed in functional medicine principles and practices, and nurses may choose to become certified as an IFMCP practitioner after completing the full IFM program. What's more, they offer significant discounts to graduates of our program to encourage them to go on to complete their full certification program.


Hone in on a Niche


Alternatively, many of my RN and NP students studying functional medicine already have a "niche" they feel passionately about, or they may discover a new "niche" during their time in the course. They may choose to build on the foundational teachings from the course by next doing a deep dive into their passion topic. For example, many students choose to take advantage of their IFM discounts to take the IFM Advanced Practice Module (APM) on their topic of interest such as hormones, gut health, cardiometabolic health, immune health, bioenergetics, or environmental health.


Consider Advanced Functional Testing Courses


Functional nurses who are curious and wish to expand their knowledge further may be interested in deep dives on functional medicine topics like advanced testing options, and there are some truly fun courses offered by specialty testing companies on using their products. These courses can be incredibly insightful, providing practical skills, case studies, and knowledge that can be applied directly to patient care. I have two recent podcast episodes on using labwork in your practice here and here.


Connect with Like-Minded Practitioners at a Conference


Continuing education is a staple in nursing, ensuring we stay up-to-date with the latest advancements and best practices. Functional medicine is no exception. As a lifelong learner, I don't think I'll ever get tired of taking more functional medicine courses! There are numerous conferences held each year that I truly enjoy, offering a ton of latest and greatest information and the opportunity to connect with like-minded professionals. These events are perfect for staying abreast of the latest developments and innovations in functional medicine. Some my favorites include IFM's AIC (held late May in Las Vegas this year) and the Personalized Lifestyle Medicine Institute (PLMI) conferences in spring and fall (Chicago and Seattle, respectively). You can listen to my recent podcast episode on key takeaways from the fall PLMI conference in Seattle.


But Can You Get Board Certified?


When talking about next steps, It's essential to note the difference between obtaining a certificate from completing a course and being board-certified. Many courses offer certificates to signify completion, but this should not be confused with a board certification, which is a formal recognition of expertise in a specialized field. In nursing, we can become board certified in our area of speciality such as nurse coaching (NC-BC), critical care nursing (CCRN), nuse educator (CNE), emergency department nursing (CEN), or school nursing (NBCSN). These nursing board certifications are issued by respected nursing authorities on the subject through a credentialing body such as AHNCC.


As of now, functional medicine does not have a specific board certification for nurses, but the education and knowledge gained through continuing education courses like those offered through INCA and IFM are invaluable for integrating functional medicine into nursing practice. Similar to nurse coaching just over one decade ago, I have faith that a formal functional medicine nursing board certification is on the horizon. In the meantime, IFM offers a certification that is considered the most respected of those available. Many online programs may offer their own version of being "certified", but typically these tests are developed by the course creators and program leaders themselves. Any course can offer a "certification," but I have found the rigor of the IFM certification to be held to a standard that must be acknowledged. Whenever I look at functional nursing positions advertised by holistic employers, they tend to be seeking nurses trained through the IFM model.


What Are Your Professional Goals?


Are you eager to step out and start your own functional nursing practice? Many of my students do! But many others are thrilled to incorporate their new skills into their current practice. We can apply the holistic practices of functional medicine in any nursing setting. Check out this recent podcast episode on surprising places a nurse may choose to practice functional medicine. Your journey into functional medicine can vary based on your interests, career goals, and the needs of your patients. Whether you opt to take a foundational course, delve deeper through IFM's certification program, or specialize further with specific advanced modules on topics like hormones, cardiometabolic health, immune health, or gut health, each step enhances your practice and contributes to a broader, more holistic approach to health care. Consider listening to my podcast episode on choosing your functional medicine education pathway.


When I learned functional medicine initially, it felt very peacemeal and disorganized. This is a huge part of why I encourage all nurses interested in functional medicine to start with a solid foundation, such as the Functional Medicine for Nurses™ course offered through the Integrative Nurse Coach Academy, in partnership with IFM. This course not only speaks the language of nursing but also provides a realistic framework for applying functional medicine principles in everyday practice. Additionally, it offers the incredible benefit of deep discounts for those wishing to continue with IFM's full program, making it an excellent starting point for your journey into functional medicine. You can read more about their current discounts for our students here.


By embracing functional medicine, we are not just expanding our own knowledge and skills; we are actively participating in the shift towards a more integrative, patient-centered approach to healthcare—a mission that aligns beautifully with the core values of nursing. Let's embark on this journey together, for our growth as professionals and for the improved health and well-being of our patients.


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