James Maskell on the Importance of Functional Medicine Doctors in Healthcare

James Maskell, founder of Evolution of Medicine, didn’t realize his upbringing was a little unusual until he got to school — there, he was the only kid who not only knew what a chiropractor was, but had his own, and a naturopath. Read on to hear how Maskell’s childhood shaped his career journey and led him to found Evolution of Medicine, an online resource for integrative and functional medicine doctors, as well as Functional Forum, a monthly event that highlights important clinical topics for integrative and functional medicine doctors and practitioners.
*This is a short clip from our interview with James Maskell. Click here to watch the whole thing.
You can also listen to an audio version of our interview with James Maskell on The WellBe Podcast.

How A Wellness-Focused Childhood Led to A Career in Functional Medicine

Maskell grew up in an era when the wellness boom hadn’t yet started, and there was little awareness around alternative health approaches and practitioners, with his family being a notable exception. “I was definitely the weird kid at school that was given all the natural health stuff,” Maskell says. “I had a chiropractor and a homeopath. That was just the health care that I had growing up, and I didn’t really realize that was weird or out of the ordinary until I showed up at school and realized no one really knew what a chiropractor was.”
He was also the only student whose mother had to be called before he could be given antibiotics. Though she wasn’t a medical professional, and there wasn’t yet much research into the potential negative repercussions of antibiotics, she somehow knew that antibiotic resistance was going to be a problem and wanted to protect her son. 
That kind of healthcare stuck with Maskell. “It was certainly something that sort of stayed on in my DNA until now,” he says. Still, it wasn’t at the front of his mind, and so he chose to study economics in college and then went on to work at the biggest trading floor in the world. Before long though, his entrepreneurial spirit, combined with the seeds that had been planted by his mother’s healthcare approach, wouldn’t allow him to remain at that job or in the finance industry. 
Maskell’s attention had turned to the broken healthcare system in the United States. He thought that, possibly, his background — which included business training and an integrative approach to health — could help him solve what he describes as “an embarrassing problem for American medicine. He saw healthcare costs going up significantly, while outcomes stayed flat or worsened. “I just sort of had a moment of clarity that this was a problem that I was uniquely built to deal with,” he says.

Discovering the Importance of Functional Medicine Doctors 

After that realization, Maskell left his finance job and went to work with a cousin to learn the ins and outs of running a business. At the same time, he began to think more about integrative medicine and how it could help solve the healthcare crisis in the United States.
As he considered the integrative medicine approach to healthcare, he began to scrutinize it more closely and try to understand what would work and what wouldn’t work when it came to the American healthcare system. What he came to realize was that the answer to the crisis lay with a particular type of integrative medicine, known as functional medicine. 
“I would say integrative medicine, generally, is doctors that integrate standard-of-care Western medicine with non-standard-of-care modalities,” says Maskell. “There’s a whole range. You have integrative dentistry and all kinds of models of it. But essentially, if you’re doing anything that’s not standard-of-care and mixing it with whatever is, then that’s integrative medicine. It’s a big umbrella.”
Under that big umbrella is functional medicine, which Maskell describes as “a very specific operating system for prioritizing integrative medicine.” In essence, functional medicine is a science-based system of medicine focused on finding the underlying cause of disease and addressing the person as a whole. Because it’s under the big umbrella of integrative medicine, functional medicine also incorporates complementary medicine, such as acupuncture or natural medicine. 
Functional medicine doctors work in partnership with patients to tailor treatments based on their unique health history, physiology, and lifestyle. As part of their approach, functional medicine doctors also use specific lab tests to identify issues and make sure to incorporate the latest research on how environment and lifestyle influence disease. In order to become a functional medicine doctor, practitioners must undergo specialized training in addition to their years of medical school and residency.
It was this systematic, uniform approach to health that drew Maskell to functional medicine. He was intrigued by integrative medicine as a whole, but he saw that everybody was doing it differently and incorporating different modalities — it seemed as if each integrative practitioner he saw had learned from one specific guru who had a totally unique philosophy. There was no unified approach, which meant it wasn’t scalable and couldn’t be used to fix the broken healthcare system. 
But when Maskell went to the Institute for Functional Medicine and heard Dr. Jeffrey Bland speak, he saw something totally different. “I saw the matrix and the timeline, and all the different pieces,” he says. “I realized, ‘Look, this is something because everyone is learning it the same way, and also, it’s prioritizing the integrative modalities.’”
To illustrate why the systematic approach of functional medicine is so important, Maskell gives an example: “So if you have a group of people that have type 2 diabetes, for some people it’s a stress thing, for some people it’s a detox thing, for some people it’s a food thing. How do you prioritize the different modalities for those different people, depending on what the cause is? Functional medicine had a great operating system for that.”
Maskell saw clearly how functional medicine doctors were what could reduce costs and improve outcomes in American healthcare. Now, the challenge lay with getting all those practitioners trained. As he put it: “If we suddenly realized that integrative or functional medicine was the way that we were going to solve chronic disease, and we needed 100,000 doctors trained in it tomorrow, what would we do?” 

Providing Functional Medicine Education to Bring Functional Medicine to the Mainstream

After that lightbulb went off, Maskell focused his career on getting more trained functional medicine doctors out in the world. A Buckminster Fuller quote in his email footer sums up the ethos that has guided his work for the past half decade: “You don’t create change by fighting the existing reality. To create change, build a new system that makes the existing system obsolete.” He and his team have taken that to heart, working hard to create a new system of well-trained functional medicine doctors who can have enough of an impact that they disrupt the healthcare status quo. “We believe that there is no more opportune moment than right now to build a new system that makes the existing system obsolete,” says Maskell.
To that end, Maskell founded the Evolution of Medicine, an online resource and community to educate conventional healthcare professionals in integrative and functional medicine, with the goal of getting more trained functional medicine doctors out in the world. He explains that this is essential because most doctors weren’t trained to be functional medicine doctors in medical school, and so there’s a learning curve for those who want to make the transition.
Also, as the current system exists, it’s difficult to become one and make a steady, reliable income. “The only way that you can become a functional medicine doctor, at this exact moment, is to also become an entrepreneur,” says Maskell.  “You have to hang your shingle and do something different.” What Evolution of Medicine does — as well as the Functional Forum, the world’s largest integrative medicine conference — is provide support and resources to those who want to become or utilize functional medicine doctors, making it easier for this approach to become the mainstream.
Maskell predicts that in the next five to ten years, more and more functional medicine doctors will be able to enter the healthcare field without needing to take an entrepreneurial risk. He believes that because of the proven effectiveness of the approach, functional medicine doctors will be in-demand, and can begin getting jobs where they earn a normal salary, just like conventional doctors, as opposed to starting their own practice. 

Why Functional Medicine Is So Important Right Now


To understand why functional medicine is so important right now, you need only to look at the rates of chronic disease in America. Six in ten Americans have a chronic disease, and four in ten have two or more chronic diseases. This becomes even more alarming when you learn that chronic disease is the leading cause of death and disability in the United States. 
While conventional medicine approaches tend to focus on simply treating diseases and symptoms — which doesn’t do anything to address the chronic disease epidemic — functional medicine takes a holistic, root-cause-based, lifestyle-focused approach that can prevent and heal chronic conditions. 
The Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine was the earliest large institution to begin using and studying functional medicine, and there have been promising results so far. In one recent study, researchers found that functional medicine was associated with improved quality of life in patients with chronic disease, as compared to those treated with conventional approaches.
Maskell believes that more promising results will soon be coming out of the Clinic and similar centers and that those results will be the start of a revolution. He predicts that it will be “like an earthquake for the community, that we get better outcomes at a lower cost with functional medicine for a range of chronic diseases, and that the demand, then, for functional medicine will go through the roof.”

Conclusion: The Importance of Functional Medicine and What It Means for You

James Maskell is clearly sold on functional medicine as the key to reducing chronic disease rates and fixing our broken healthcare system — and, given its promising results and systematic, holistic approach, so are we. After all, if you could live a lifestyle that prevents you from getting sick and leaves you feeling your best every day, wouldn’t you choose that over playing whack-a-mole with medications and conditions?
Here’s what to remember about functional medicine and how to use it to improve your health:
  • Integrative medicine is a general term that includes any approach to healthcare that uses alternative medicine alongside conventional (Western) medical approaches. There are many different ways of practicing integrative medicine.
  • Functional medicine is a specific type of integrative medicine, which uses a systems-based method to treat the patient as a whole and get to the root cause of issues.
  • Functional medicine, with its holistic and lifestyle-based preventative philosophy, seems to be the most promising approach to curbing and reversing the chronic disease epidemic in the United States.
  • The businesses that Maskell founded — Evolution of Medicine and the Functional Forum — as well as others like them (like Parsley Health) are working to bring functional medicine to the mainstream.
  • If you have a chronic issue you’re looking to heal, or just know you could feel better than you do, a functional doctor is probably your best bet. They will treat you as a whole person, and do the correct, specific testing to figure out what’s wrong.
  • If you need help finding the right functional medicine doctor, or sticking with the protocol that your current functional medicine doctor has recommended, schedule a call with Adrienne to learn about her holistic patient advocacy services. She can help you define the steps you need to take to heal and make sure you take them, and support and advocate for you with your doctors. 
Watch our full interview with James Maskell to hear him explain the reason that functional medicine is taking off faster in the U.S. than the U.K. (Maskell grew up there), why it’s time for functional medicine to reach more socioeconomic groups, the reason behind recent closures of integrative health centers, and much more. You can also listen to this interview on The WellBe Podcast.
The information contained in this article comes from our interview with James Maskell. His qualifications and training include graduating from University of Nottingham with a degree in Health Economics. He serves on the faculty of George Washington University’s Metabolic Medicine Institute and Academy of Integrative Health and Medicine Fellowship. He is the creator of the Functional Forum, the world’s largest integrative medicine conference and an author. You can learn more about him here.
Have you seen a functional medicine doctor? What was your experience like? Tell us in the comments below!
  1. Dieleman, J. et al. Factors Associated With Increases in US Health Care Spending, 1996-2013. JAMA. 2017;318(17):1668-1678.
  2. CDC. National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. July 2020.
  3. Beidelschies, M. et al. Association of the Functional Medicine Model of Care With Patient-Reported Health-Related Quality-of-Life Outcomes. JAMA Netw Open. 2019;2(10):e1914017.
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