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The State Of Functional Medicine 2020: Insights From Dr. Jennifer Franklin

3X4’s new State of Functional Medicine series features interviews with a diverse range of active practitioners and established thought leaders to learn more about why they chose the field of functional medicine, what excites them most about their work, the most common misconceptions they hear from patients, and most importantly — how they see the field evolving in the years ahead as healthcare shifts to be more personalized, proactive, and preventative. 

Functional medicine practitioners play a key role in helping patients understand who they are so they can improve their quality of life which is what we’re all about here at 3X4. Our goal with this new series is to celebrate the work these practitioners are doing and inspire others to explore the exciting field of functional medicine.

The following is an interview we have recently had with Jennifer Franklin, MD, FAAP, IFMCP, at CentreSpringMD.

Why did you decide to make functional medicine your focus?

JF: Like many functional medicine practitioners, I discovered the value of these principles through my own health struggles. As a busy mom of three young sons who was struggling with exhaustion, brain fog, skin and digestive issues, my first “a-ha” moment came when I did my first elimination diet after reading the book “It Starts With Food.” I had never learned the true science of nutrition and food to transform health, and I experienced dramatic results after 30 days of eating a whole, unprocessed diet. Furthermore, after practicing for several years as a general pediatrician, I realized that my conventional training (albeit at an excellent medical school and pediatric residency program) had not prepared me to appropriately treat children with complex, chronic conditions beyond prescribing medications. The “name-it, blame-it, and tame-it” approach to treating chronic disease, as Dr. Sid Baker refers to it, does not benefit our patients because it doesn’t investigate the root cause of their disease or imbalance. Functional medicine focuses on treating the whole patient instead of just a diagnosis, and that resonates deeply with me. I experienced first-hand how it can transform one’s life, and I knew I wanted to bring this type of healing to my patients.

Who have been your greatest mentors in your functional medicine journey? 

JF: My first introduction to functional medicine was in reading the book “Evolution of Medicine” by James Maskell. The subtitle, “join the movement to solve chronic disease and fall back in love with medicine,” certainly caught my attention. After reading this short book, I dug into any and all resources I could find about functional medicine. I read more books and listened to podcasts by leaders in the field such as Drs. Mark Hyman, David Perlmutter, Kara Fitzgerald, and Chris Kresser. When I discovered the Institute of Functional Medicine and their top-notch educational training program, I knew that was my next step to further my learning in this exciting field. All of my instructors at IFM inspired me with their didactic teaching and clinical expertise. Last but not least, Dr. Taz Bhatia, the founder of CentreSpring MD in Atlanta, graciously offered me a position in 2019 to join her team and care for patients in a holistic, integrative and functional manner, and I am beyond grateful for what my patients teach me everyday.

What excites you most about your day to day work? 

JF: The greatest opportunity I enjoy each day is to partner with patients and their parents to offer a listening ear, a new perspective, and an empathetic heart to help identify and treat the underlying root cause(s) of their health challenges. I play the role of medical detective, encourager, and coach in this patient-centered approach to healing; it’s incredibly humbling and gratifying to work alongside patients in this way.

What’s the most challenging part of your day to day work? 

JF: The greatest challenges lie in the financial and time constraints in which we must work to fully investigate the cause of imbalance in the individual patient. Because functional medicine digs deep into a patient’s history, all the way back to prenatal contributors, this takes time to unearth, and the current healthcare model and insurance-based system does not adequately reimburse for our time and investigation. Furthermore, the in-depth testing we use to discover functional imbalances can add up in cost and be a real investment.

What do patients most commonly get wrong about functional medicine? 

JF: Most patients who are accustomed to the conventional medical model do not understand the integral role they must play in restoring their own health. The healing truly depends upon their commitment to change and put in the effort to bring healing and balance back into their life (or for children, the essential role that parents must play in restoring their child’s health). This is much more difficult than taking a pill everyday. It can certainly be a challenge, but the results are more than worth it!

What’s holding the field of functional medicine back? 

JF: The main obstacle is insurance companies not recognizing our worth to promote health and, in return, their ultimate cost savings in the prevention and reversal of chronic disease. Our type of comprehensive medical visits and the associated functional lab testing really limits what many patients can afford to pursue when insurance does not pay. If health insurance providers could see the value in functional and lifestyle medicine, which improves quality of life and helps avoids costly medications, hospitalizations and surgeries, then perhaps this would be more accessible to the general population who desperately need it.

Furthermore, I believe we need more practitioners to see the extraordinary benefit of treating patients in this way and to become trained in functional medicine. This is the medicine of the future, and I’d love to see more clinicians embracing this field as the answer to effectively treating patients with chronic disease.

What has your experience been with genetic testing? 

JF: I use genetic testing in my patients in two main areas. The first is to detect any SNPs (single nucleotide polymorphisms) that may determine the nutritional and lifestyle recommendations best suited to help them thrive and bring healing. Understanding that genetics loads the gun, but the environment pulls the trigger helps patients take control over their own health destiny and know that they can be proactive to make changes that align with their genetic make-up. Secondly, I use pharmacogenetic testing to evaluate how an individual may metabolize a specific drug. This knowledge is invaluable for my patients that do require pharmaceuticals in their disease management in order to best select the medication that is right for them.

How do you see the practice of functional medicine evolving in the years ahead? 

JF: I definitely believe that functional medicine is vital to the future of healthcare. Returning to the basic cellular biology and physiology, evaluating an individual’s unique determinants of disease, uncovering the root cause and then tailoring a treatment plan specific for that patient is the best way to practice medicine. Patients desire and deserve this type of healing that combines the art and science of medicine at the highest level. I am thrilled to have discovered functional medicine in order to help the patients that come into my clinic, and I’m eager to see how it continues to grow and transform lives in the years to come.

About Jennifer Franklin, MD:

Dr. Franklin is a board-certified pediatrician and physician certifying in functional medicine through the Institute of Functional Medicine. Her extensive training allows her to treat both children and adults, from an integrative and functional perspective.

After completing her residency training, she enjoyed a thriving career as a general pediatrician. As a mom to three young sons, one born premature, she knows well the toll that balancing motherhood and career could take – with her own health compromised from stress, a poor diet and fatigue. She knew this was a wake-up call to take control of her health and make wellness a priority. After completing an elimination diet that changed her life, she dedicated herself to eating whole foods, a regular exercise program, good sleep hygiene, and stress relieving techniques. These physical and mental changes combined with her commitment to faith and spirituality were essential to her healing. It was through her own personal journey that she felt called to bring this type of healing and holistic wellness to patients who are desperate for their own life transformation.

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