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Functional Medicine Practitioner Spotlight: Dr. Cheryl Winter

3X4’s new Functional Medicine Practitioner Spotlight series features interviews with practitioners, consultants and functional medicine thought leaders to explore everything functional medicine practitioners need to know about successfully building, managing, and growing their private practice. 

The following is an interview we recently had with Dr. Cheryl Winter, DCN, FNP-BC, APRN, RDN, Dr. Cheryl Winter/VITAL Health Solutions.

What can you tell us about your practice?  

CW: My current practice is called “Dr. Cheryl Winter/VITAL Health Solutions.” I have been a healthcare provider for over 40 years. I started out in the healthcare industry as a registered dietitian. Medical Nutrition Therapy has always been my number one passion, but unfortunately, I was ahead of my time because doctors and patients were not as passionate about nutrition as I was and didn’t see it as a means to healing and staying well, back in the 1980s and 1990s. Doctors didn’t want to use my services, other than when their hospital patients had meal complaints, and patients only wanted to take a pill for their ills instead of changing their diets and lifestyle. I became very frustrated with this model and having gone through so much education to become a registered dietitian, I was very disenchanted with healthcare in general. But, I decided to go back to school again and become a registered nurse. I figured I might be better able to help my patients in this capacity, which led me to become a diabetes educator, and then eventually a nurse practitioner. Little did I know when I started out that I would be a professional student, gaining a total of 5 healthcare degrees (three in nutrition and two in nursing).

When working as a diabetes specialist nurse practitioner and prescribing medications for their diabetes condition, I realized that my patients were rarely getting better with these prescriptions, but instead they were getting sicker and sicker, and requiring even more medications. I realized there was something wrong with this picture and I was determined to find a better way, and thus I discovered functional medicine, and after that there was no turning back. I became certified through The Institute of Functional Medicine (IFM) in two years, which was the fastest I could do the program that was being offered. 

In a sense, my career went full circle after becoming IFM-certified because I ended up back using my initial nutrition degree. But since so much time lapsed since becoming a registered dietitian, I decided to go back to school once again and become more proficient with my nutrition skills, thus I became a Doctor of Clinical Nutrition through Maryland University of Integrative Health. After I graduated from this program in 2019, I opened up a store-front Functional Medicine clinic (previously I was only working virtually or as a consultant). 

I now specialize in getting to the root cause of cardiovascular conditions, e.g. diabetes, hypertension and obesity, and also work with autoimmune conditions. I also specialize in treating erectile dysfunction (ED) through functional medicine, but also through the use of the GAINSWave treatment (a shockwave treatment for ED). Of course, I also work to improve the gastrointestinal health and nutrition status of my patients, as well as improving their hormone balance. I have been trained through Worldlink Medical to prescribe Bioidentical Hormones to both men and women of all age groups. Bioidentical Hormones is a big part of my practice and gives me so much satisfaction to help both men and women get their health back and slow-down the aging process.

What surprised you the most when you started your practice?

CW: The biggest surprise in running a functional medicine practice is the amount of time and effort required to market it. If you don’t accept insurance, you are not listed in the insurance directories, thus patients cannot find you unless you advertise and market yourself. This is a full-time job in itself and also expensive. Being successful at social media is an art and a science, and something that is not easy to do for a solo practitioner. Networking can also be very time-consuming. Thus, my goal is to eventually hire this out.

What was the biggest challenge you had to overcome as you built your practice? How did you overcome it?

CW: The biggest challenge I have had to overcome is financial. But, I can’t say that I have overcome this issue quite yet. I made the decision not to go too deeply in debt, so I have to take things slow and wait until I make more money before investing and expanding in the business. Being in school working on my last degree (Doctor of Clinical Nutrition), did take a toll on the finances for awhile, but it is starting to pay off now. Patience is a virtue.

What advice would you give to other practitioners considering launching their own practice?

CW: I would say, try not to do it all alone. There is just not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that is required for a successful practice, otherwise, you will burn yourself out. And don’t try to do everything the practice down the street does. Just pick one thing and do it well. This is what I have tried to do. Do hire coaches for yourself to avoid mistakes and/or join various professional groups to see what others are doing and not doing, and listen to professional podcasts. There is a lot of paid and free support available out there. 

What excites you most about the field of functional medicine?

CW: What excites me the most are the amazing outcomes that I see, the positive feedback I receive, and the close relationships I have made with my patents. It is such a wonderful feeling when they tell me how much better they feel, how much more energy they have, how they have effortlessly lost weight, and how their lives have been positively impacted by the changes they have made and by the treatments that have been designed for them. It is so exciting to help clients get off of prescription medications that were literally making their health worse. I had a patient who I helped improve her libido and overall demeanor with Bioidentical Hormones, and when on the phone with her I hear her husband in the background saying “Thank you very much, Dr. Winter for giving me my woman back.” So, it’s not just the individual patients we help, but also their families. I never received as much positive feedback like this when I was working strictly as a conventional healthcare practitioner and it was a lot harder to create a trusting relationship with my patients in conventional care, having only 10-20 minutes allotted to spend with them. Functional medicine is a win-win for both the patient and the practitioner.

Where do you see your tract 5 years from now?

CW: In 5 years, I hope to be able to hire staff to work with me and allow me to offer even more integrative services that will benefit the patient, and also allow me to take more time off. I want to also create online courses and also offer group visits, so I can help more people. 

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