Creating a successful career in Integrative and Functional Medicine
Everything you need to know, and first-hand advice and resources, about developing a successful career in Integrative and Functional Medicine
If you are looking to start a career in integrative and functional medicine you have come to the right place! This guide comes from fifteen years experience of creating a portfolio career in these specialties long before they were popular, providing first hand advice and resources to ensure your transition is successful and fulfilling. Good luck!
An Insider’s guide to creating a successful career in Integrative and Functional Medicine
What are Integrative and Functional Medicine?
Along with Lifestyle Medicine these terms are becoming more widely used, but there is still much confusion about the difference between them all. It’s really helpful to be clear about their differences before you start.
Following a career path in these disciplines will also take you off the well-trodden path of medical training and so can be a little overwhelming when you first begin. Not to worry! Here is a straightforward guide to finding the resources and information you need to ensure you reach your goal in a hugely satisfying and interesting area of medicine.
Integrative Medicine (IM) can be seen as the umbrella which covers a whole host of other medical disciplines including Lifestyle and Functional Medicine. Popular in the USA, the term originated from the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine. It is very popular in America and the rest of Europe, particularly in Germany, France, Austria and Switzerland. In the UK, the National Centre for Integrative Medicine (NCIM) and College of Medicine are the leading bodies in promoting and providing training in IM.
Integrative Medicine combines the best of conventional, lifestyle and holistic approaches to improve health and wellbeing.
So , let’s clarify these terms:
Encompasses many different therapeutic modalities including:
- conventional medicine
- lifestyle and functional medicine
- herbal medicine
- bodywork i.e. yoga
- traditional healing practices such as Ayruvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine.
This means there are many different pathways into it. It provides a huge toolbox in addressing health conditions. Furthermore, IM allows a truly holistic approach to healthcare, with huge scope for creating a satisfying and successful medical career.
A systems biology-based approach that focuses on identifying and addressing the root cause of disease. It teaches the use of the Functional Medicine Matrix, which is a really useful framework when collating a personalised and tailored treatment strategy.
It also incorporates Lifestyle Medicine at its core. And in addition, studying functional medicine will give you extensive and in depth knowledge of nutrition and how nutrients affect the biochemistry and physiology of the body.
You will also gain knowledge into the effects of gut microbiome on chronic health conditions. As well as how epigenetics can influence our health. It’s fascinating, but you certainly need to love biochemistry to study it! The Institute of Functional Medicine is the leading body in training and regulation.
The foundation of all health and is the cornerstone of preventative medicine. It empowers patients to take control of their lifestyle and optimise nutrition, sleep, relationships, exercise and to manage stress in positive ways.
We have a wonderful in-depth guide to having a successful career in Lifestyle Medicine if you are interested in this area.
What does a career in Integrative and Functional Medicine look like?
IM is offered in a limited capacity within the NHS, in particular acupuncture, homeopathy and herbal medicine. These are particularly focused within the two NHS Integrative Medicine Hospitals – Royal London Hospital for Integrated Medicine ( RLHIM) and the NHS Centre for Integrative Care (NCIM), Glasgow. There are some training posts and employment opportunities available in these hospitals, but they are limited in number.
NCIM also employ holistic doctors in their clinic, however most IM or FM doctors work in private practice. Some within larger functional or integrative medicine clinics which are scattered throughout the country. Many have their own private practice as part of a portfolio career and some set up a clinic themselves.
Looking for inspiration?
With such a huge range of specialities to choose from the difficulty can sometimes be knowing which area to train in. Connecting and talking to experts in your area of interest is the best way to get inside information on whether this is the best choice for you. And if possible, ask to shadow or spend a day in clinic with them to get a real feel for it.
What are the courses and training options in IM?
Training in IM can be done via two main pathways: either taking a broad approach with the Diploma in Integrative Medicine from NCIM in Bristol or via specialisation in your chosen area.
The Diploma in Integrative Medicine is a 2 year part time course which offers an introduction to the principles of IM. This includes modules on herbal medicine, nutrition, functional medicine, homeopathy, and mindfulness. Run by NCIM and the College of Medicine, it combines distance learning and weekend modules.
NCIM also offer Open Clinical Days, which are open to any healthcare practitioner. These one day seminars can make a great introduction to IM. They are focused on practical ways of bringing IM into your clinical practice, and are based on particular topics for example, cardiovascular medicine or women’s health.
For further training in IM you may also consider looking at the The Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine , in Arizona USA. In addition, their range of publications and online learning.
Specialise in one area
The second option is to specialise in one particular chosen area. If you are particularly interested in one discipline this may be a better option. You can gain more in-depth training and a practitioner level qualification.
For formal training the MSc/PGDip in Personalised Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy is a good option, and there are many other undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Nutrition and Nutritional Therapy including the diploma by the Institute of Optimum Nutrition (ION).
Look for courses accredited by the following bodies: BANT (British Association of Nutritional Therapists); Nutritional Therapy Education Commission (NTEC); Association for Nutrition (AfN) or The Federation of Nutritional Therapy Practitioners (FNTP).
You may also like to check out Nutritank, a useful hub of online learning and nutrition resources for healthcare professionals.
Heartwood offers blended and online learning courses and programmes as part of its mission to promote excellence in Herbal Medicine education. It covers both foundation and professional level training. Its clinical lead trained in medicine at Oxford, and has practiced as a holistic doctor in the UK, France and Denmark.
A BSc (Hons) in Clinical Herbalism is also available through The Lincoln College and there may be exception for some modules within this for those holding a medical degree/ training.
The Faculty of Homeopathy offers and regulates homeopathy training for doctors. The one year foundation level leads to the qualification of LFHom(Med). For full professional training, MFHom(Med) allows a doctor to provide homeopathy in an NHS setting and in private independent practice.
The British Medical Acupuncture Society (BMAS) offers training and conducts research into medical acupuncture. It offers two levels:
- the Certificate of Medical Acupuncture (CMA) – a 4 day course plus 30 cases or
- the Diploma in Western Medical Acupuncture (DipMedAc) – a more in depth training.
It also offers CPD one day training courses in a range of acupuncture practice for those who have obtained the CMA or DipMedAc.
The Ayruvedic Institute offers introduction and professional level training courses in Ayruveda, including a including a 1 day training for healthcare professionals.
Based in Bangor, The Centre for Mindfulness Research and Practice (CMRP) was the first university based mindfulness center in the UK. There are three ways to train to be an MBSR or MBCT teacher: Master’s in Mindfulness; Teacher Training Pathway (TTP) and stand-alone teacher training courses.
The British Wheel of Yoga offers foundation and qualified teacher training.
What are the courses and training options in FM?
The Institute of Functional Medicine is the leading training organisation in FM. It is based in the USA and provides training in the UK through the organisation, Clinical Education.
There are two levels of training:
- The 5 day introduction course, Applying Functional Medicine in Clinical Practice (AFMCP)
This 5 day course provides an introduction to the Functional Medicine Matrix and FM diagnostic tools. As well as how to apply key elements of the functional medicine model in clinical practice and how to create a tailored nutritional and lifestyle treatment plan.
- The Functional Medicine Certification Programme. This gives full certification in functional medicine and is designed to provide comprehensive clinical training for assessment, treatment, prevention, and management of patients with complex, chronic disease. The components of the course include the AFMCP 5 day course, plus:
- 6x 2 ½ day Advanced Practice Modules
- Certification exams & case presentations
For both parts of the training, online options are available through live streaming from the UK or USA; or in person attendance at the conferences.
How can I find out more about a career in Integrative and Functional Medicine?
There are so many wonderful books on IM and FM, here are just a small selection:
Integrative Medicine by David Rakel
Gut: the inside story of our body’s most under-rated organ by Giulia Enders
Principles and Practice of Phytotherapy Modern Herbal Medicine by Kerry Bone
The Functional Nutrition Cookbook: Addressing Biochemical Imbalances through Diet by Lorraine Nicolle and Christine Bailey
Biochemical Imbalances in Disease: A Practitioner’s Handbook by Lorraine Nicolle and Ann Woodriff Beirne
The Clever Guts Diet: How to revolutionise your body from the inside out by Michael Mosley
Brain Changer: How diet can save your mental health – cutting-edge science from an expert by Professor Felice Jacka
The Telomere Effect: A Revolutionary Approach to Living Younger, Healthier, Longer by Dr Elizabeth Blackburn and Dr Elissa Epel
IM & FM pioneers…..
Many IM and FM doctors are based in the USA, simply because this is where these disciplines began. But we now have a burgeoning number of inspiring experts here in the UK too:
Dr Elizabeth Thompson is a consultant in Palliative Medicine, and CEO of the National Centre for Integrative Medicine, Bristol. She is a leader in integrative and holistic medicine in the UK and is Academic Director for the Diploma in Integrative Medicine.
Andrew Weil, M.D., is a world-renowned leader and pioneer in the field of integrative medicine. He founded the The Andrew Weil Center for Integrative Medicine in Arizona, USA.
Aviva Romm MD, is an American physician, midwife, and herbalist who practices IM, focused on women’s health.
Challenges of a career in Integrative and Functional Medicine
A career in Integrative and Functional Medicine can bring some challenges. This is a relatively new area of medicine and is not well established within the NHS at present. Therefore it can be frustrating that this speciality is not well recognised. In addition it can be expensive to complete your training as you will generally need to self-fund, although there can be bursaries available for some courses.
Insurance for many of these modalities can be gained through Balens, although they will not cover your conventional medical practice or prescribing.
In terms of your GMC appraisal, if you are practicing privately in IM or FM you could consider joining the Independent Doctors Federation (IDF). They can administer your appraisals and revalidation. Or if you qualify in homeopathy this will be done through the Faculty of Homeopathy.
- Listen to podcasts: such as the GW Integrative Medicine, which shares the latest news and research on Integrative Medicine. Or the “Yes To Life Show” on the UK Health Radio. In particular the episode with Dr Michael Dixon on social prescribing.
- Read books – as suggested above.
- Watch videos:
Check out this video from the Institute of Functional Medicine by Jeffrey Bland, leader in Nutritional Medicine
Dr. Shaista Malik, a cardiologist and director of the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine, explains how their whole-person care differs from other healthcare providers.
- Try out short 1 day courses, such as the Open Clinical Days run by the NCIM.
- Attend conferences – for example the ECIM congress
- Chat to colleagues or experts that are practising IM or FM.
- Join Facebook groups such as the UK Doctors Lifestyle and Nutritional Medicine Group
It is also very good practice to try out these therapies yourself as a patient, and to begin incorporating lifestyle medicine into your life. In this area of medicine you really need to practice what you preach!
There is a growing and very supportive community of like-minded doctors in the UK which is expanding all the time so connecting into this can be very helpful for providing support and advice.
A growing network to connect with can also be found at the European Congress for Integrative Medicine. This is an international association to advance science, research and education in IM. Furthermore, it promotes evidence-based practice and organises a very interesting yearly conference, see above.
It may also be worth considering some career coaching to decide how you can bring this into your work, either combining it with your current position, changing direction completely or how to set up a private practice and what this would involve.
With so many interesting areas to study and practice, IM and FM offer a unique and very satisfying approach to medicine, with a real focus on holistic care of the patient and self development of the practitioner. It is a growing area with much patient and public demand, research opportunities and exciting new developments. A career in integrative and functional medicine is a great choice for those wishing to create their own path and begin a lifetime of learning in a fascinating discipline.
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- Creating a successful career in Integrative and Functional Medicine - 28th September 2020