How Practitioners Become Functional Medicine Trained & Certified

How Practitioners Become Functional Medicine Trained & Certified

REVIEWED BY — Tanya Mezher, MS, RDN, CDN

Welcome to the USA, the richest country in the world where one in three adults suffer from multiple chronic illnesses. As a nation, we have the money, the technology and the rigorous medical training, so where have we gone wrong?

Let's start investigating.

The most obvious and certainly one of the most pernicious culprits is our food. The Western diet overloads us with preservatives, antibiotics and sugar. Think you’re in the clear with that gluten-free, Paleo, low FODMAP grocery haul? Wellllllll…over-farming and copious pesticide use have depleted our soil of many of its nutrients and have made us forced to memorize the Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists.

Now pair poor nutrient intake with a healthcare system that foundationally allows for many of our most vulnerable to fall through the cracks. And while medical school is long, arduous and expensive, it has its own blindspots.

Functional Medicine & the Medical School Dilemma

Most licensed doctors graduate having received less than 25 hours of nutrition education. Um, excuse me? This in a country where 42% of adults are obese...

To put it simply, we are in the midst of a health crisis. That originates in our guts. And the people who are supposed to be healing us lack training in nutrition, aren’t given enough time to practice, and are arguably traumatized on their way to receiving their degrees.

Things are feeling dark. And, no surprise, the patients aren’t the only ones fed up with this broken system. Who wants to do eight years of medical school only to be overloaded with patients and deprived of time and resources? But hope is not lost. There is a solution.

Many of these talented and driven doctors are transitioning over to functional medicine.

With eight years of prior training what could these MDs possibly need to learn to become a functional medicine-trained doctor?

NUTRITION. Just to state the obvious. Understanding food as medicine—using personalized dietary plans as important supplements and compliments to prescription drugs (or alternatives completely). Learning how to evaluate functional lab tests to prescribe changes that begin in the gut. But the training doesn’t stop there.

Functional medicine goes beyond these vital dietary analyses. It looks at the body as one integrative and cohesive system rather than a disjointed conglomeration of independently-functioning parts. Vagus nerve, meet the brain and gut and heart and kidneys… you get the point..

While this may sound obvious, it is a system overhaul from Western training. Imagine you are afflicted with recurrent cases of strep throat. Four infections in and repeated prescriptions of antibiotics later, your primary care physician gives up and passes your case down to the ENT. Your specialist has a whooping 15-minutes to deep-dive into your case and comes to the same conclusion as the PCP: antibiotics it is.

Years down the line and countless cases of strep throat later, you get sick of this good-enough “normal”. Constant intake of antibiotics has your immune system weakened and your gut in even worse shape. Gastrointestinal issues begin to complement the pain in your throat. While the ENT is focused on that specific, inflamed region of the throat, the GI tract falls out of their territory of expertise. Which, of course, as an interconnected system, results in a weakened immune system, leading to more sickness and, potentially, more ear, nose and throat infections.

Through the lens of functional medicine, this heightened specificity lacking in holistic understanding draws an incomplete picture. Functional medicine-trained practitioners target problems at their root. That strep throat? Rather than treat the topical symptoms, it’s time to figure out why it is recurring and how to ensure that it does not come back. Functional medicine looks at systems as a whole and their interactions rather than separating the body into discrete and unrelated pieces.

Functional Medicine Education and Training

Functional medicine gets to the root of illness oftentimes through the use of highly-targeted lab tests. Without the pressure for a quick diagnosis and symptom alleviation, functional medicine doctors go deep into investigating those blood, stool, hair, and saliva samples. To assess a problem right, it’s vital to understand its root cause. When getting a functional medicine certification, through institutions like the IFM, doctors are retrained in the ways in which they approach health. An extensive panel of labs are ordered to effectively prescribe highly-personalized treatment plans. No more of that one-size-fits-all approach with an extra-large side of antibiotics.

Functional medicine-trained dietitians, nutritionists, and coaches receive equally rigorous education in nutrition, mind-body medicine, and positive psychology. Through intensive courses at institutions such as FMCA and IFNA, these coaches and licensed practitioners do deep dives into functional medicine. They are the pros when it comes to understanding food as medicine. And watch out- we’re going there again. Yes, they love the microbiome. Functional medicine certifications do a deep-dive into how those 100 trillion bacterial cells affect everything from your digestion to your mental health.

The curriculum for functional medicine coaching has an emphasis on the study of positive psychology and food psychology. While getting tips on how to live healthier is great, functional health practitioners are trained in providing you with the necessary tools for how to implement meaningful and lasting changes. They’re top notch when it comes to accountability, too. However, this isn’t Orange Theory. They won’t scream at you while putting your stats on blast. Techniques of positive psychology keep you wanting to stay on track...getting your brain on board for what your body already knows it needs.

Curious to give functional medicine a try? Reach out to the Malla team today at

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