Last updated on November 27th, 2023.
Functional medicine is an exciting health movement addressing many of conventional healthcare’s biggest blindspots. Practitioners all over the country are searching to be trained in functional medicine. It’s commonly believed that you must study at the Institute for Functional Medicine to become a functional medicine practitioner. However, this is not the case. There are many accredited institutions where you can get training in functional medicine, each designed to meet specific populations.
We compiled information about the best functional medicine training programs here in one easy-to-navigate place to give you a home base to return to as you search. Functional medicine is not licensed, so the programs vary widely in price, duration, and content. Some programs, like the School for Applied Functional Medicine, are designed more for MDs, whereas others, like the Wisdom Institute training, are intended to cover the entire healthcare spectrum.
What is considered functional medicine?
Functional medicine is a patient-centered and holistic approach to healthcare that addresses the underlying causes of disease rather than merely treating symptoms. It recognizes the interconnectedness of the body’s systems and considers genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors contributing to a person’s health. By understanding each individual’s unique biochemistry and physiology, functional medicine aims to develop personalized treatment plans that integrate both conventional medicine and complementary therapies.
One of the fundamental principles of functional medicine is its patient-centered approach. It emphasizes individuals ‘ history, experiences, and goals, involving them as active participant in their process. When creating a treatment plan, the physician and patient work together as a team, considering the patient’s unique circumstances.
A biology perspective
Functional medicine takes a systems biology perspective, recognizing that the body is an intricate network of interdependent systems. Imbalances or dysfunctions in one area can impact other areas, leading to health problems. Rather than focusing solely on managing symptoms, functional medicine aims to identify and address the root causes of illness. This involves thoroughly analyzing factors like nutrition, hormones, gut health, and environmental influences, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the underlying mechanisms contributing to a patient’s health concerns.
An integrative approach
By adopting an integrative approach, functional medicine combines the best of conventional medicine with evidence-based complementary and alternative therapies. This allows for a broader range of treatment options tailored to each patient’s needs. The personalized treatment plan may incorporate lifestyle modifications, nutritional interventions, supplementation, stress reduction techniques, and other modalities. Advanced laboratory testing may also be utilized to assess biomarkers and better understand the patient’s health status.
Seek qualified healthcare professionals
If considering this approach, it’s vital to seek qualified healthcare professionals who have received appropriate training in functional medicine. While functional medicine is a rapidly evolving field, its patient-centered, systems-oriented, and integrative nature offers a comprehensive perspective on healthcare that aims to optimize wellness and address the root causes of disease.
Why train in functional medicine?
Training in functional medicine allows healthcare professionals to expand their knowledge and skills in a patient-centered and integrative approach to healthcare. By undergoing practical medicine training, practitioners gain a deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of the body’s systems and the complex factors contributing to health and disease. This training equips them with the tools to identify and address the root causes of illness, allowing for more effective and comprehensive treatment strategies.
Functional medicine training also provides healthcare professionals with a broader range of patient treatment options. By integrating conventional medicine with evidence-based complementary therapies, practitioners can develop personalized treatment plans tailored to each individual’s unique needs. This holistic approach empowers patients to actively participate in their healing process and promotes optimal wellness by addressing the underlying imbalances and dysfunctions contributing to their health issues. By training in functional medicine, healthcare professionals can enhance their ability to provide comprehensive, individualized care and improve patient outcomes.
Functional medicine is in high demand
Functional medicine is exploding in popularity, with over 150,000 people searching for a functional medicine practitioner every month. In many aspects of holistic health, there is an excess supply of practitioners, meaning there are more practitioners trained than people are searching for those practitioners. This is mainly true of nutritionists, health coaches, and other holistic providers.
However, in the functional medicine world, it’s precisely the opposite. There’s a massive demand for functional medicine, yet relatively few practitioners are trained. This is why available medicine doctors can charge a national average of $460/hour, according to Rupa Health.
What is a functional practitioner?
A functional practitioner supports individuals in their health journey at many different stages. Oftentimes, patients with a variety of symptoms are frustrated with the shuffle from one specialist to the next, trying to find answers. Functional practitioners provide these patients with tools to investigate the root causes of the symptoms that are rising to the surface. They also help educate patients about how the different systems of the body are integrated, each one influencing everything else. In particular, a functional approach hones in on digestive health, often with a strong element of nutritional support as well. It’s different from conventional primary care in a number of key ways:
- Functional practitioners typically spend much longer with each patient (typically between 45 and 60 minutes per appointment.
- Functional medicine practitioners give individualized care to each patient, truly investigating the whole body systems of their patients. Often this includes the use of advanced testing, but not always.
- Functional practitioners generally use medications as a last resort. They seek lifestyle interventions (diet, toxic removal, exercise, stress management) as a first treatment strategy.
- Function practitioners take on fewer clients so they can give extraordinary care. The average primary care doctor has 1,000-2,500 patients, and sees patients for an average of 17-24 minutes per appointment. Functional practitioners typically take on significantly less clients (between 200-800), giving them more time for each individual.
Who should consider a career in functional medicine?
Covid-19 left hundreds of thousands of healthcare professionals looking for alternative careers. In 2021, 333,000 doctors, nurses, and healthcare workers left their jobs, higher than any year on record.
Some want to stay in healthcare but seek something far from the hospital environment. Becoming a functional practitioner may be an excellent choice if you are one of these healthcare professionals looking for a new career home or looking to enter the healthcare field. Becoming a functional practitioner may be a reasonable consideration if you are looking for a career path that supports people in their health and well-being. It is a growing field with built-in autonomy and entrepreneurship. According to research done by NIH, we are in a time of great transition and much-needed change in how healthcare is administered and accessed.
Functional medicine offers innovation and transformative approaches to serve the growing number of people with chronic diseases. This is especially critical in light of the astounding increase in autoimmunity and the complexity of symptoms that decrease quality of life.
Do I need to be an MD to take functional medicine training?
Anyone can take functional medicine training and become certified as a practitioner in functional medicine. However, the scope of practice and the titles you receive will depend on your current license. There is an excellent need for available medicine practitioners at all levels (health coaches, nurses, and doctors). With the massive shortage of doctors in the US, we’ll continue to see the knowledge of functional medicine be applied by practitioners of all levels.
How do I become a functional medicine practitioner?
Functional medicine is not currently under licensure, which means the options for training and certification are less formalized than a healthcare license. Typically, those taking practical medicine training already hold a healthcare license and apply the tools to their current medical scope, but not always. Health coaches and nutritionists are increasingly seeking functional medicine training as there is such high demand from patients.
To become a functional medicine practitioner, the first place to start is to identify the perfect certification. Depending on your background, whether you are already a healthcare professional or if you are just getting started, we hope this read helps you know what to look for in the certification landscape. This career opportunity is particularly well suited for, but not limited to, medical doctors, naturopathic doctors, nurse practitioners, nutritionists, and other healthcare providers.
Not all trainings are created equal, and we have chosen our top 5 to help you narrow the search. Each training is unique, with some requiring an examination for completion. It is important to note that becoming a certified functional practitioner can open the doors to a lucrative career, and the financial investment is far less than pursuing an additional degree in higher education. This is a bonus, considering that the average functional medicine practitioner can make $460/hour while helping others find the root cause of their chronic condition.
We have reviewed a wide variety of training programs on the market today and have ranked our favorites in the following categories:
- Entry requirements and prerequisites
- Length of study
1. Wisdom Institute Functional Medicine Training
The Wisdom training was a surprise entry at the top of this list, but it stands out as the only training still taught live online (all other programs are pre-recorded lectures). The Wisdom program is built around the insight that you must learn to live from real clinicians to learn functional medicine in real-world practice.
The program offers a unique, two-level training format that opens the educational door to functional medicine for all health and wellness providers, including doctors, nurses, nurse practitioners, holistic practitioners, nutritionists, and health coaches. The curriculum is designed to help all trainees develop a precise, individualized approach to functional health that embraces advances in testing and diagnostics.
- Pre-Requisites: Level 1 training is open to all. Level 2 requires a Bachelor’s Degree in Health or Science, Active Healthcare or Wellness Professionals.
- Length of Study: 6-8 months
- Format: 100% Live online with recorded option synchronous
- Cost: $5,400 (when paid up front, with payment plans available)
2. Institute for Functional Medicine
The Institute for Functional Medicine is the original functional medicine training organization. For many years, it was the only school training functional medicine practitioners. Suppose you are looking to stay within conventional healthcare and seek an applicable medicine job at a hospital or health network. In that case, the IFM certification does stand out as a recognized name.
They train clinicians to translate scientific advances in genomics, epigenetics, nutrition, and lifestyle into solutions for challenging clinical problems. According to the Institute for Functional Medicine, this form of personalized medicine deals with primary prevention and underlying causes instead of symptoms for severe chronic disease.
- Pre-Requisites: Masters Degree in Science or Healthcare; Active Healthcare License
- Length of Study: 18-56 months
- Format: Recorded and asynchronous
- Cost: $12,000-$17,000
3. The American Academy of Functional Health
The American Academy of Functional Health (AAFH) is a recognized organization that offers healthcare professionals and patients valuable training and education focused on tackling chronic diseases. Their approach is evidence-based, patient-centered, and comprehensive, aiming to address the underlying causes of illnesses. Accredited by the American Association of Drugless Practitioners® and the American Association of Natural Wellness Practitioners, the AAFH provides reliable and reputable resources for those seeking to enhance their understanding and practice of functional medicine.
By partnering with the AAFH, healthcare professionals gain access to specialized training programs that equip them with the knowledge and skills to address chronic diseases effectively. The organization’s accreditation by respected associations further adds to its credibility and ensures that practitioners receive high-quality education in line with professional standards. Additionally, patients can benefit from the AAFH’s educational resources, which empower them to take an active role in their healthcare journey and make informed decisions about their well-being based on the principles of functional medicine.
- Pre-Requisites: Healthcare Professionals Approved by AAFH Operations Manager
- Length of Study: 6-12 months
- Format: Recorded and asynchronous
- Cost: $6,960
4. Kresser Institute
Established in 2015 by Chris Kresser, MS, LAc, a renowned figure in Functional Medicine and ancestral health, the Kresser Institute has emerged as a prominent institution. With a focus on revolutionizing medicine, their mission is to equip the next generation of healthcare practitioners and allied professionals with the necessary skills, tools, and training to address chronic diseases effectively. By combining the principles of Functional Medicine and ancestral health, the Kresser Institute aims to create a transformative impact on the future of healthcare.
The Kresser Institute’s vision extends beyond traditional healthcare approaches. By emphasizing a comprehensive understanding of chronic diseases and their underlying causes, they strive to empower practitioners with the knowledge and expertise to provide innovative and personalized care. Through their training programs, the Kresser Institute equips healthcare professionals with the necessary tools to navigate the complexities of modern healthcare and contribute to the advancement of Functional Medicine, ultimately improving patient outcomes and fostering a paradigm shift in medicine.
- Pre-Requisites: Open to all pending application approval
- Length of Study: 12 months
- Format: Recorded and synchronous
- Cost: $12,000
5. The School of Applied Functional Medicine
The School of Applied Functional Medicine (SAFM) is dedicated to driving positive change by focusing on preventing and reversing diseases. Their mission extends beyond transforming healthcare systems to redefining how practitioners engage with patients, utilizing a blend of functional medicine principles and clinical partnership. It is worth noting that SAFM’s curriculum primarily caters to medical doctors (MDs), and its content may be dense and challenging for practitioners at lower levels to absorb and apply fully.
SAFM recognizes the importance of addressing the root causes of illnesses and promoting holistic approaches to healthcare. By incorporating functional medicine principles into their curriculum, they empower MDs to deliver comprehensive and personalized care that can prevent and reverse diseases. While the density of information in their programs may present a challenge for practitioners at lower levels, SAFM’s commitment to transforming healthcare and fostering clinical partnerships demonstrates its dedication to advancing the field of functional medicine.
- Pre-Requisites: Active healthcare license
- Length of Study: 2.5-3.5 years
- Format: Recorded and asynchronous
- Cost: $12,297
Final Thoughts on the Best Functional Medicine Training Courses
Functional medicine training programs provide healthcare professionals with a comprehensive, patient-centered approach to addressing chronic diseases. These programs empower practitioners to understand the interconnectedness of the body’s systems and identify the underlying causes of illnesses, enabling them to develop personalized treatment plans tailored to each individual’s unique needs. By integrating conventional medicine with evidence-based complementary therapies, functional medicine training expands the range of treatment options available, resulting in improved patient outcomes and enhanced overall wellness.
Among the notable functional medicine training programs, the American Academy of Functional Health (AAFH) stands out as an accredited organization offering reputable and reliable resources for healthcare professionals and patients. With a focus on evidence-based practices and accreditation by respected associations, the AAFH provides valuable education and training that meets professional standards. By partnering with top functional medicine training programs, healthcare professionals can enhance their skills and knowledge, leading to a more holistic and practical approach to patient care.
By embracing functional medicine principles and incorporating them into their practice, healthcare professionals can significantly impact their patient’s lives by addressing the root causes of disease and promoting optimal health and well-being. Functional medicine training programs serve as a pathway for practitioners to develop expertise in this evolving field, empowering them to deliver comprehensive and personalized care beyond symptom management and supporting long-term wellness.