Thanks today to B. Adam Baillio, PharmD for telling us his story in a journey to become a functional medicine pharmacist.
He is a recent grad pursuing a residency in functional medicine. Read on to see how his life came full circle from a functional medicine patient, to becoming a pharmacist, and now working to provide the same healthcare he has come to trust and value as a functional medicine pharmacist
A Second Career in Pharmacy
As a recent pharmacy school graduate in his 40s, I am often asked why I decided to switch from my former profession of theater to become a pharmacist. My thoughts are immediately drawn to my family.
I have a wife and 5 children who are the center of my world. I want to be able to provide for them the life they deserve. Although I had a decent wage as a stagehand in Las Vegas, my wife and I decided it just wasn’t enough.
As we contemplated the various paths we could have chosen, my heart was drawn to the professions of my ancestors. I remembered that my paternal grandfather and his father were both pharmacists. We both agreed that this profession would have the potential to provide for our family in a manner suitable to our desires. However, there would be some complications.
Supporting a Spouse with Extreme Food Allergies
Allow me to provide some background on my family. I married a woman who suffered from food allergies. One of the major problems was, despite going from one specialist to another, she never really found a solution. She had a list of foods she was to avoid including shellfish, tree nuts, and basically anything with preservatives.
There was no way to avoid everything on her list, so she resorted to taking 6-8 Benadryl a day to correct the symptoms she was experiencing which included hives and anaphylaxis. Even then, she suffered painful hives on a weekly basis.
Early in our marriage, the anticholinergic effects of her medication became overwhelming. I remember distinctly the night she ran out the front door “mad as a hatter.” We knew there was something wrong, but the doctors we had seen had no real solutions.
Answers from Non Traditional Sources
While visiting her mother, we were invited to see a specialist we hadn’t considered before. He was a chiropractor and nutritionist who practiced functional medicine. Within moments of walking in the door, he knew exactly what was wrong.
By looking at her symptoms and her complaints, he determined that fruit was preventing her stomach from processing other foods. He told her to get off all fruit, take a few supplements to assist the stomach and she’d be able to eat everything on her allergy list that night! We followed his orders and sure enough, she was able to eat without Benadryl for the first time in a decade. What a relief!
Functional Medicine Convert
Since that time, my family has relied on functional medicine to care for our health needs. We take special vitamins, we use essential oils, and we continue to counsel with our chiropractor/nutritionist for guidance. As you might have guessed, our friends were a little surprised when we announced that I would be going into a traditional western medical field.
Seeing Both Sides of the Coin
Having gone through pharmacy school, I recognize the importance of medications. I’ve read the trials that demonstrate mortality benefit for a number of drugs. I am also acutely aware of numbers needed to treat, adverse drug effects, and burdens such as pill load, costs, and problems billing insurance. The more I learn, the more I realize how broken our health system is in the United States. I see the challenges and pitfalls healthcare providers face, and I think to myself there must be a better way. Then I remember the lesson I learned from my wife’s health challenge.
Functional medicine is a perspective in healthcare that tries to find underlying causes of illness. Practitioners do their best not to just treat the symptoms but to really find out what is causing the symptoms and treat that. They are not satisfied with prescribing a pill that will allow someone to live longer while their body continues to deteriorate. That’s not health! That’s not quality of life!
Finding Where I Fit
With these thoughts I looked for like-minded people. I found mentors in social media, the classroom, and podcasts. I found a Facebook group for pharmacists who practice functional medicine. These were people who understood how to use the vitamins, supplements, herbs, and essential oils I had learned to trust before pharmacy school and who also understand the world of medications. I learned more during my class on complementary and alternative medicine. The professor taught us to look at different health options with a critical eye. We learned how to find what research exists for lesser known treatments. I also found podcasters who shared my values. As I listen to these thought-leaders, I recognize how to blend my background into my future as a pharmacist. I learned some of the pitfalls that beset the world of vitamins, supplements, and herbs.
When it came time to consider where to apply for residency, I reached out to these new mentors. There happens to be one accredited pharmacy residency with an emphasis in functional medicine. The preceptor herself invited me to apply. If anything attests to the idiom that “it’s who you know and not what you know,” this is it. Not only did I get this residency, but of the 13 I applied to, it’s the only program that interviewed me.
As I finalized my classwork, crammed for the NAPLEX, and packed up my family to move across the country, I got a sense of the sacrifice I made to follow this narrow path. I recognize the importance of finding a niche and creating my own personal brand. I hope that this niche which rings truest to me is one that will sustain my family. It has not been easy and I don’t make this decision lightly.
As I begin my residency, I find myself leaning on my mentors. I see the hope of success around their examples. Although the path ahead is not perfectly clear, I trust that I am doing the right thing not only for my conscience but for my family. And really, it’s because of my family that I’m here.