I often hear nurses say something similar to my experience finding functional medicine. Long before I was a nurse, I was asking WHY as we do in functional medicine. I didn't want to be a nurse. I wanted to be a midwife, but life found me working in the hospital for about eight years before transitioning to my role as an NP in primary care. The hospital life fed my family, and it offered me a flexible schedule that I enjoyed. I made the transition to becoming an NP to get back to my original goal of empowering people with education and support. Sadly, working in corporate healthcare just wasn['t for me. I kept being asked to work faster, spend less time with people, and I was really conflicted. I was learning functional medicine at the time, and I wanted to share what I was learning with all of my patients. Of course, now I know this isn't for everyone! And I acknowledge often that there is a place and time for offering allopathic care and for functional care. In many settings, we are able to combine the best of both worlds, and I wanted to share some thoughts on that topic in this blog. Nurses are at the forefront of this holistic healthcare revolution, and today we're going to delve into an area that holds immense potential—integrative care that synergizes allopathic and functional medicine approaches.
Allopathic Medicine vs. Functional Medicine: What's the Difference?
I think we all know the strengths and weaknesses of allopathic medicine. The system is excellent at acute care—think trauma, surgery, and infectious diseases. We will always need highly skilled, dedicated nurses caring for patients in hospitals, acute care clinics, and more! However, when it comes to chronic diseases and prevention, allopathic medicine's focus on diagnosable diseases and symptom suppression often leaves patients on a carousel of medication and does a disservice to these patients long term.
On the other hand, functional medicine addresses the root causes of disease, utilizing lifestyle changes, nutrition, and patient education and empowerment to restore balance and function to the body. But let's face it—sometimes, prescriptions and traditional interventions are necessary.
So, what if we could combine the best of both worlds?
Integrative Care: The Synergy We Need
Integrative care is not about abandoning allopathic methods but rather enhancing them. As nurses, our role often allows us to act as the bridge between the medical world and patients, between conventional methods and alternative therapies. We are in a unique position to facilitate this integration.
There are so many settings where a nurse may work and offer the benefits of an integrative approach. In this manner, there is flexibility to offer the more allopathic interventions to optimize outcomes for those patients that are not interested in a functional approach- the best of both worlds!
Why Nurses Are Perfect for This Role
Nurses have always been educators and patient advocates. We spend the most time with patients, gaining insights that can often be missed in a hurried 15-minute consultation. Functional medicine gives us the tools to take that role even further, providing more comprehensive care that addresses not just symptoms, but root causes.
Case Studies in Integrative Care
Let's say we have a patient who's battling high blood pressure. Conventional medicine would prescribe antihypertensive medications. But what about diet and stress, known contributing factors? What about potential micronutrient deficiencies? These are just a few of the root causes of hypertension, but patients need an advocate to ask that question with them- WHY? This is where nurses trained in functional medicine can step in to provide a more holistic treatment plan.
Similarly, consider a patient dealing with chronic pain. While painkillers can provide temporary relief, they don't address the underlying inflammation that could be the root cause. A functional medicine-trained nurse can guide the patient toward lifestyle and nutrition changes that can reduce inflammation, providing a more lasting solution.
Practical Steps for Nurses
Educate Yourself: The first step in becoming an integrative nurse is education. Programs like Functional Medicine for Nurses™ provide nurses with the functional medicine 'HOW.'
Collaborate: Open lines of communication with physicians and other healthcare providers. Discuss options for integrative care and be prepared with evidence to back up your suggestions.
Educate Others: One of the most empowering aspects of nursing is the ability to share knowledge. Utilize platforms like in-service training, social media accounts,, or even blogs like this, to share your insights with other nurses and healthcare professionals.
Integrative care is not just another trend; it's a necessity in our evolving healthcare landscape. As nurses, we are ideally positioned to lead this change, improving patient outcomes and advancing our profession to new heights.
By synergizing conventional and functional medicine, we can offer our patients the best possible care, based on both symptoms and root causes. As always, it's about providing holistic, patient-centered care. That's what nursing is all about, and it's why integrating functional medicine into our practice makes so much sense.
To all my nursing professionals out there interested in functional medicine, let's continue to drive this change. Our patients deserve nothing less than the best, and so do we.
The Functional Medicine for Nurses™ program is now available in partnership with the Institute for Functional Medicine, providing invaluable resources and insights for aspiring functional nurses. Click here to learn more.