This week we welcome Rachel Gates, NP, to WholeHealth Chicago, where she joins nurse practitioners Katie McManigal and Wendy Ploegstra.
Like Wendy, Rachel is specially trained in a new (and desperately needed) branch of healthcare called Lifestyle Medicine. More about that later.
Indiana-born and raised, Rachel began her education at Purdue University, earning her RN before moving to Nashville, where she worked as a bedside nurse at Vanderbilt University Hospital. She then volunteered to do medical missionary work in Ghana and, later, India, life-changing work for certain.
On her return she enrolled at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute of Health Professions (thankfully, MGHIHP for short) and earned her nurse practitioner degree. This means she’s basically licensed to do everything an MD can do.
Her first position at Mass General was in the cardiac unit. During this time, she had an experience very similar to the one that compelled me to leave conventional medicine and start WholeHealth Chicago.
What occurred to both of us, Rachel in Boston and me 25 years earlier in Chicago, was a sort of epiphany. We were treating so many sick patients who had multiple chronic illnesses, virtually all of which could have been prevented if someone along the way (nurse, doctor, chiropractor, anyone) had explained the necessity of a lifetime of healthful eating, regular exercise, stress reduction, and giving up bad habits like smoking and drinking too much.
I don’t know what precise thoughts went through Rachel’s head when she came to appreciate the utter futility of endless prescription writing, tweaking one med and adding yet another, invariably leading to side effects, hospitalizations, and, in the end, nursing home placement and early deaths.
But those were the thoughts that went through my mind at my own midlife career change.
Decline in US lifespan
This year, the World Health Organization announced that the US was one of two developed countries whose citizens had shorter lifespans than they’d had a decade earlier. The other was Hungary. Everyone else was living longer, healthier lives except us.
While at Mass Gen, Rachel attended a Lifestyle Medicine conference sponsored by Harvard University. She then started reading and following the online lectures of Mark Hyman, MD, author of numerous excellent books and founder of the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic. Rachel began taking courses offered by the Institute for Functional Medicine and joined the American College of Lifestyle Medicine (Wendy Ploegstra is a member as well).
I’m pretty confident that if you’re a regular reader of these Health Tips, you’re already doing much of what Lifestyle Medicine practitioners teach. Or at least you’re aware of what you should be doing. Believe me, there’ll come a moment when you say to yourself “Uh-oh. I’d better get to work on this.”
Maybe you’ve already let that moment pass. When your weight and cholesterol were out of control and you were advised to see a nutritionist but didn’t. Then you received a prescription for early diabetes and you wondered if you’d be taking it every day for the rest of your life.
Well, yes, probably, and a few more to boot. And hours spent at Walgreens, in physician waiting rooms, seeing specialists, having blood tests, and praying you don’t lose your health insurance. That and endlessly worrying about your health.
Utterly unnecessary worry
Much chronic illness is preventable and reversible. This needs to sink into your brain deeply enough for you to start taking steps. Recognizing that change takes willpower and perseverance, ask yourself if you’re capable of it, say yes, and then get to work.
You’ll probably need to start by understanding healthful nutrition. You’ll cut out fast carbs including sugar and start eating a whole-food, plant-rich diet. You’ll step up your regular physical activity as well as restorative sleep, stress management, avoiding risky substances, and nurturing good social connections.
The biggest barrier to accomplishing these goals is your conventional physician. I hate to say it, but medical school and residence training teach nothing about lifestyle medicine, so your doctor is poorly prepared to help and in his or her heart very skeptical that you have the willpower to really care for your own well-being.
Lifestyle Medicine in practice
A commitment to Lifestyle Medicine is not for everyone. For many people, swallowing a few pills every day and hoping you won’t get worse too quickly is the easiest path. It’s especially difficult to initiate major changes in the areas of diet and exercise after decades of accumulating damage. It’s also challenging, but not impossible, to make a decision to live healthy when you’re young, strong, and have never been ill.
In the last few weeks, I learned that two physicians I’d once worked with had died after lengthy illnesses. They were both in their 60s and obese, cigarette smokers until that became too socially objectionable, and as physically active as beached whales.
Each ended his days in a wheelchair. Over the years, when our paths would cross, I’d offer them the services of WholeHealth Chicago and get an eye-rolling response.
These were basically intelligent men. Both specialists, one a surgeon and the other a gastroenterologist. But both were fixated on the limits of what they knew: prescription drugs and surgery, period. Their ignorance of everything else killed them.
I think you’re getting an idea of how Rachel Gates can help you. Rachel has special experience with chronic heart disease, nutritional medicine, and from personal knowledge with herbal medicine has a keen interest in sex hormones, adrenal fatigue, and subclinical hypothyroidism.
She’s well-acquainted with the Functional Medicine diagnostic tests I wrote about last week. And because she’s a nurse practitioner she can write prescriptions, but more importantly knows enough about the human body and pharmacology to start weaning you off prescription medications when you start following her guidance.
To schedule an appointment with Rachel, click here.
David Edelberg, MD