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Functional Medicine & Nurse Coaching: The Perfect Partnership

Updated: Mar 8, 2023

I became a nurse almost 15 years ago. Like many of us who are deeply dedicated to the profession, I started out as an associate’s degree-trained RN, but soon returned for my bachelor’s degree (BSN), followed by a master’s in nursing (MSN) as a family nurse practitioner (FNP), and will soon have my doctorate in nursing practice (DNP). Learning has always been important to me.

My passion for education extends to my clients, and it’s one of the biggest reasons I became a nurse. At every level of our training, nurses learn the importance of educating our clients. I believe it’s one of our top priorities; after providing high-quality, compassionate care, our next responsibility is to educate our clients, because that’s what empowers them to care for themselves.

I love teaching, so the education component came easily to me–the difficult part was not being bossy or lecturing clients, but rather offering insights that could help them make informed decisions. Isn’t that what all nurses want for their clients: to give them the tools so they don’t need us as much?!

But in the hospital setting, I often lacked the time and tools to teach effectively. And once I became a primary care provider, I found that the corporate healthcare system pushed for shorter appointment times and quality metrics that seemed very disconnected from what I knew about truly delivering high-quality care. I had become a “manager of disease,” and I was miserable.

Searching for a different option, I found nurse coaching and attended the Integrative Nurse Coach Academy course on site at Harmony Hill in Union, Washington. It was an inspiring setting to learn the art of not teaching, but listening.

An important lesson I learned there was that as nurses, we can get caught up in the teaching part and forget to ask why. Most of the time, we’re not the first ones to tell our clients to quit smoking, eat healthier, or lose weight. How often have we been told to do something for the 10th time? It gets old!

But when we ask the why, we uncover what is in the way of our clients’ becoming happier and healthier versions of themselves. We uncover their why–and what could be more important in unlocking the key to their health and happiness? Uncovering their motivations and personal barriers to change and helping them work through them is powerful! This was a remarkable revelation for me. I realized in becoming a nurse coach that it was time to reframe the conversations I was having with my clients.

Meanwhile, I was also studying functional medicine. In functional medicine, we also ask why. Functional medicine is also often called “root cause medicine” because we delve into the root cause of health conditions–the (often hidden) why. We look at each person holistically, listen to their unique story, and help them uncover the underlying mechanisms at play in their health concerns. These root causes are often related to lifestyle, food choices, or exposure to toxins, all in combination with their genetic predispositions.

These days, I bring together the disciplines of nurse coaching and functional medicine in my consulting practice. Clients arrive motivated, and they’re excited to connect with a healthcare provider who will truly listen and help them hear. This means everything to me. In this role, I’m often the teacher, giving them the knowledge and tools to restore their own health and happiness.

When new clients come to me, I find they often expect to change their eating habits and exercise routines. And that certainly happens! But they are also frequently surprised to find their root case is something more difficult to change. Maybe they’re in a dysfunctional relationship, or they work in a high-stress career. Perhaps they’re caregivers for aging parents or young children. Sometimes we discover patterns of toxic self-talk or unaddressed past trauma.

These are the times when nurse coaching plays a leading role in their journey. Functional medicine may be the reason they seek me out, but the changes they need to make are more challenging than they expected. How are they supposed to get more sleep or cut back on hours at work?! My background in nurse coaching provides the foundation to help them navigate these scenarios and succeed in their quest for better health.

When I was invited to develop the Functional Medicine for Nurses™ course for the Integrative Nurse Coach™ Academy where I had studied nurse coaching, it was an easy YES! I am so thrilled to be able to share what I have learned in a way that is targeted and meaningful for nurses, nurse coaches, and nurse practitioners in a format that is an affordable, comprehensive foundation in functional medicine. The functional medicine HOW combined with our inherent nursing knowledge is the most powerful set of skills to truly revolutionize what we offer our clients, and to finally offer them a path to true happiness and healing!


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