This week on the podcast we have an exciting episode announcing our launch of Functional Forum Communities! I’m joined by Toni Wolley and Kristen Brokaw, who are both leaders of their local communities in St. Louis and Indianapolis but are also sales reps. Toni and Kristen are on to share with us how they started their local communities and their journey’s with them. Kristen even shares how she has membership options for St. Louis. This is our next iteration to build something that will stand the test of time. If you listen to this and you’re interested in joining a community or starting a community, we’d love to hear from you. You can go to functionalforum.com and register there.
- How the Functional Forum Meetups (previously named) are expanding into Communities with more opportunities to grow
- What the benefits are from being a part of a local community
- A few examples of what Kristen and Toni do with their communities each month
- And so much more!
Resources mentioned in this episode:
James Maskell: Welcome to the Evolution of Medicine podcast, the place health professionals come to hear from innovators and agitators leading the charge. We cover the latest clinical breakthroughs in health technology, as well as practical tools to help you transform your practice and the health of your community. This podcast is brought to you by the Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center, who provide a range of options to help you deliver successful, effective, functional, and integrative medicine. To find out more and to get started, go to goevomed.com/lmrc. That’s goevomed.com/lmrc.
Hello, and welcome to the podcast. This is a big day, a big week, a big podcast for the Evolution of Medicine. One of the things that we’re proudest of is building practitioner communities across the country and across the world. And what you’re going to hear today is the next iteration of our vision to connect practitioners in every major city, all across the world.
And so today I’m joined by Toni Wolley and Kristen Brokaw, who are both leaders of their local communities in St. Louis and Indianapolis but are also sales reps. And for those of you who don’t know, I was a sales rep for seven years before I started the Functional Forum, and being a sales rep helped me understand the needs of the practitioners really clearly and helped me realize that community was something that was absolutely necessary. Not just in New York where the Functional Forum started, but it led to over 400 communities and this is our next iteration to build something that really will stand the test of time. If you listen to this and you’re interested in joining a community or starting a community, we’d love to hear from you. You can go to functionalforum.com and register there. That was a really interesting half an hour. Thanks so much for being part of it and enjoy.
So a warm welcome to the podcast, Kristen and Toni, welcome.
Kristen Brokaw: Hi James.
Toni Wolley: Hello.
James Maskell: So I’m super excited to get into it with you here today. Kristen, let’s start with you, you and I met at the 2016 annual international conference for the Institute for Functional Medicine. And I was very excited to hear that moment that your community of practitioners predated the Functional Forum by quite a few years. So let’s jump into that. How did you end up being in the position to be the coordinator of the St Louis Institute for Integrative Medicine and why are you passionately still doing this 12 years later?
Kristen Brokaw: I, as a sales rep, was calling on doctors that first year in my job. And I realized all these doctors, as I’m running from office to office, they were aware of each other, or maybe not even aware of each other, but they didn’t know each other. And, but they had different specialties. And I thought that was interesting. And I also felt like they all had the same needs. They all have the same questions, they all felt alone. And I mean, I’ve never organized anything in my life, but I just felt compelled to put them in a room. And I said, “Why don’t we just get together and see what happens?” So that was in winter, January of 2008, when we had our very first dinner and it was awesome. And they were so excited and they loved meeting each other. And I mean, I just knew I was onto something. So we’ve done it four times a year ever since.
James Maskell: Now I’m sure that you could probably have made more money being a pharma rep, given your skills. Why have you turned your time for the last 12, 13 years to serve this particular community, integrative and functional medicine practitioners?
Kristen Brokaw: Well, it’s interesting because I actually had the opportunity to become medical sales rep, right? And I probably would have made a lot more money who knows, but I was in a car accident and I was recovering and I had been offered this other job. I mean, it was like a great base salary. I would have had a company car and then I interviewed in the functional medicine space and making it would have been making quite a bit less money, at least in the beginning.
And I knew that if I didn’t go this route, I would be selling my soul to the devil. I remember thinking that. And I’m obviously very grateful that I did. So I’m passionate because this changed my life, functional medicine changed my life personally. And I knew that that’s where I wanted to go and where I needed to spend time, because the doctors were so awesome, that I had worked with when I got healed.
James Maskell: Awesome. Yeah. It’s such a great story. So Toni, what about you? I know you have been organizing the community of practitioners in the Indianapolis area for a number of years now and what is it that kick-started you to put yourself in that position?
Toni Wolley: Yeah, I would say same thing with Kristen, I think originally when I started with ortho I met a lot of providers, and Indianapolis was such a well-established territory I was shocked that people didn’t know one another. And so I realized that there was a need for a connector and I think at heart that is genuinely what I like to do, is just connect people. And just a lot of other things, I am a problem solver. So I would also meet a lot of practitioners that were looking for job placement, or you would meet a lot of providers that were maybe starting a new clinic that didn’t necessarily have the money to go to some of these larger events and they just wanted affordable, ongoing education. And so that’s kind of where my passion started from.
And I will say in 2019, which I will rephrase this, cause Kristen always tells me this, I got sick in 2019 and this didn’t happen to me. It happened for me, right? So I will say in 2019 I got really sick and I do think my passion for this idea of community became much larger for me because I realized that people really need to perfect their craft and we need an influx of more doctors to come into this realm of integrative medicine. Because there are a lot of people like me, that are stuck, that are sick, don’t know where to go. There aren’t a lot of practitioners that really do a deep dive into integrative medicine. And so I really just want to grow that community as much as I can.
James Maskell: Beautiful. Yeah. Look, let me throw this out to you. If you have a practitioner who’s listening to this who maybe doesn’t have a community locally, I guess I’d love to just understand, what are the problems that get solved at a community level that maybe practitioners don’t even know that they have that you’ve seen consistently be solved by bringing together communities of doctors?
Toni Wolley: So I would say education is one thing. So a huge problem I think that people have locally and we probably all see this in our territory, is that I think it’s easy to kind of get stuck in what you’re doing and not really grow outside of that. And so I think just kind of opening up your minds to different areas of medicine that they need to kind of perfect. Job placement is another one that we obviously see a lot, people that haven’t found a home for them and just kind of helping guide them to that. I would say those are two things that commonly at least come up for me.
James Maskell: Kristen?
Kristen Brokaw: Yeah. Those definitely happen. And so, I had a dinner last week and I said, “What we’re our speaker.” We were supposed to have a speaker and they canceled. And I said, “Okay, we’re going to talk about COVID” and everybody they’re like… Even one person was like, “Oh, that’s so cringy.” But they said, after we were done, they loved it. I couldn’t get them to stop. They were able to share what they’re doing, what they’re seeing, how they feel with others that are just like them in a safe space.
And I would say that was, I mean I was almost brought to tears last week with how awesome it was with our group. And even just the basics, so other things like, they’re like, “Oh, I didn’t even know about that lab. Should I be running that lab? I didn’t know that I could treat XYZ. I didn’t even know that there was someone in my town that did X, Y, and Z. Now I can refer my patients to them.” So those are, I would say the lowest hanging fruit, and then we would become great friends after it.
Toni Wolley: Yeah. And another thing too that I think that comes up a lot for me is, at my events, and I think Kristen you’ve said this before too like we talk a lot about education and different things like that, but even just like how to grow an integrative practice. So there is a new practices that are popping up all the time, but they really don’t know how to market themselves or where to start. And so, I think sometimes just connecting people and figuring out how to best serve them, how to market their practice, how to grow their practice organically, and all these different types of ideas. I mean, that’s something that definitely is solved on a regular basis through these events.
James Maskell: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. That’s really, really interesting. So, in some ways, you might think that this is a competitive group because these are all functional integrative doctors who potentially have the same patient base, or the same potential people they’d be working with. How have you managed to foster a collaborative environment and to help people work together in these groups?
Toni Wolley: So- Oh go head. Do you want to?
Kristen Brokaw: No, I’m sorry. I thought you were going to say something so I was like, “Oh, go right ahead Toni.”
Toni Wolley: So, Kristen I will say, Kristen was part of my motivation of wanting to do this, to begin with. But I think to your point, we’re all individual, we need to figure out what works for us. So when I started my group, I kind of wanted to keep something unique to my territory.
So I host round table events that we host throughout the year. And part of the reason why I did that is because I wanted providers to host a table on whatever topic, let’s say it’s on, I don’t know, blood sugar management or whatever it may be. But to have different types of providers at the table, at a round table, much different than a lecture style event. Where each individual practitioner could give their unique perspective on how they would manage that or the advice on how they would view that and share it with a table and more of an intimate discussion. Because I personally find that when you host round table events, people are more likely to share ideas from their own experiences. I think it’s much different than hosting lecture-style events. So I think in my territory, at least, people feel honored in their profession but still a part of a larger group because of that.
James Maskell: Yeah. I’ve always found actually to that point, is that when you have different types of practitioners who look at the body differently, or look at a case differently, the learnings that come from those people discussing that are so powerful because ultimately a doctor, a chiropractor, a coach, an acupuncturist, are going to see the same case very differently and focus on what’s really theirs to do.
And one of the most exciting things that I’ve seen come out of that is a desire for creating interdisciplinary teams. And how many times do you have to sit in a group with a chiropractor who’s talking about structure and function, and how many education sessions do you have to go where you realize, okay that structure determines function, before you realize if you’re a doctor you better have a chiropractor that you trust that you can refer to, or have someone on a team who can do that. Otherwise you’re not going to be able to get a certain proportion of patients that come through the door to complete resolution.
Kristen Brokaw: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Maskell: Kristen, have you done anything like that in your area?
Kristen Brokaw: Well, I would say Toni you’ve motivated me to do round table discussions. And I brought that, after we saw each other this year, I brought that to the group and said, “This is what I’m thinking.” They then jumped on top of it and said, “Yes” and “Let’s do this.” And “We’re going to…” and they said those exact same things. They were designing how the dinner should go. They want to have different types of specialties represented at each of the tables with a different case, and then they’ll all present how they treated it at the end and share with the group. And they’re so looking forward to our next dinner where we’re going to be doing that. So thank you for that motivation, Toni.
Toni Wolley: Thank you.
James Maskell: Well, one of the things that’s super exciting and kind of why we’re doing this podcast is because, ultimately the next iteration of the Functional Forum Meetups, which is the Functional Forum Communities, is about creating an infrastructure where we can have these kinds of communities in cities all over the world. Back in 2015, 16, we got to 400 communities in the Evolution of Medicine, but ultimately most of them are all run by practitioners. And ultimately practitioners have got a ton of other things going on and actually don’t do this role as well as Toni here and Kristen and myself. I was a sales rep for seven years and found exactly what you guys are finding, is that there’s real value when you put people in the room together, but ultimately that takes discipline and work to invite people and create the right container so that people feel safe to communicate and feel like this is a real community that’s being developed.
I guess I would love to just get from both of you some ideas on what makes a great community and what makes a great facilitator in this role. And for practitioners who are listening to this, if you have someone who you think could play this role in your community, we’d love for you to send them this podcast. Because ultimately, we are looking for people like Toni, like Kristen, who really want to make a difference in their community. Who are financially incentivized to meet as many doctors as possible so that we can find that leader in each community to build these groups around the country and around the world.
Kristen Brokaw: I would say that, even though I’m a sales rep, I would say my secret sauce has been I’ve never made it about me or advancing anything that I have to do. Right? In my day job, if you will. That has probably, single-handedly allowed me to create the safe space that they don’t think they’re going to come there and get sold anything. Right? I care about them and in turn, if at the end of the day that benefits me, so be it. So, I think that’s definitely the attitude I would encourage anyone to go into it with so that you can have a sustainable and successful meetup. Toni, would you concur?
Toni Wolley: Yeah. I mean, I never make it about me or ortho or anything agenda that I have. I would say the other thing, I think that is like the main focal point, is make it about them not you. And then the other thing I would say is just, to have consistency with it. You don’t want to host a event, right? And then not do anything for a year and then host another one because you don’t really gain traction with that. You’re not going to grow your community like that. So I think just also having the mindset that you’re going to be really committed to seeing this through. Whether that is just hosting events, having a directory like I know Kristen has, having Facebook pages, doing other things to make sure that people just stay connected and stay engaged with one another.
Kristen Brokaw: Having topics that the providers care about.
Toni Wolley: Yeah.
Kristen Brokaw: Where if you’re out seeing… I think it would be difficult for a physician to do this. Not only do they not have the contacts, but they are very busy. So it does take someone who’s constantly seeing all these people and reminding them, “Hey, this is what we’re doing.” But make a scene, taking the pulse on what’s going on in your community and saying, “Okay, let’s do this as the topic.” And they care. So had I put COVID as the topic that might, I don’t know what would have happened, but it was interesting how they just were almost chomping at the bit to open up about what they’re doing, seeing, what they know, so.
James Maskell: Yeah, I want to go a bit further into that, Kristen, and both of you to share, because one of the things that I recognized when I first started going to these groups, is I recognized that there’s so much friction for traditional MDs, Dos, nurse practitioners to go outside of the box of their original training. That ultimately a consistent connection with other practitioners that are thinking in a new way is helpful in them really making the leap to practice in a new way, whether that leap is the clinical protocols changing, or whether that’s hiring a health coach, or a nutritionist, or someone else in the clinic that’s going to help them. Or maybe it’s shifting their business model significantly as well so they can spend more time with people. What have you seen to that end? As far as, I guess it’s almost like meeting people who have already done it. It’s almost like a mentorship in a certain way.
Kristen Brokaw: Again, I just had my dinner last week and this never fails. As soon as I have one, I get text messages, I get emails, “Hey, there was a doctor that was sitting over there I want to meet with him.” Or “He said something that…” So they just really want to reach out to each other. And we actually pass around a list of just cell phone numbers so that everybody can even have each other’s cell phone and get ahold of them. So they need that. Toni, what do you think?
Toni Wolley: Yeah, I mean I just definitely think that they’re, to your point James, I think that a lot of practices sometimes have a missing hole, but they don’t really know what that is until they go to a meetup group and they meet a practice that’s similar to theirs that’s maybe doing a little bit better than what they’re doing. And they figure out what they’re missing just through the connection with other people and figuring out what they’re lacking and what they need to do.
So I think, with the meetup groups too, I know Kristen you definitely do this because you talk a lot about this, but I do think as far as hosting events, I try as much as I possibly can to get people of all walks of life there. You know what I mean? Whether it’s like new practitioners, people that are just starting, specialty doctors, like neurologists, hematologists, whatever. But just people that you want to walk over to this side, just to get an open mind on what integrative medicine is and how they can partner with one another too.
James Maskell: I think it’s really powerful to know the people in the room if you’re playing this role and you’ve invited people. Because so many times when the conversation’s moving along, it’s a perfect opportunity to bring someone in, to share something that they know. And that’s really the power of facilitation. It’s interesting to see that that sort of paralleled with a practitioner community, and also a patient community and some of the group visit work. Where by allowing people to share and participate in the meetings, there’s this mutual empowerment that happens and people feeling part of that community. And I’ve certainly seen that.
Kristen Brokaw: Well a lot of times they very shy, providers can be shy, and because I know all of them I can then come out and get them and say, “Hey, I think you would add something great to this.” And “Tell us about that thing that you’re doing with my nitric oxide” or “How you’re doing X, Y, and Z.” And that’s being a true facilitator, as I call it, always keeping the ball in the air, and making sure I’m including everybody. That we don’t just want to hear from those few people that will always talk no matter what room they’re in.
James Maskell: So I guess, what are the reasons, let’s just brainstorm out between us. What are the reasons why practitioners come to these events?
Toni Wolley: So I would say, obviously what we’ve said a lot is networking. Just meeting people in the area that they hadn’t had an opportunity to meet yet. Just to connect with ongoing education obviously is another one. I mean, I think that there’s a lot of opportunities for people to get ongoing education, whether it’s through IFM, a forum, different companies, right? That host their annual events a year. But just the simplicity and the convenience of having things locally and still being able to learn from people that way is definitely something that there’s a huge need and a want for. So I would say those are some, I don’t know Kristen what your thoughts are?
Kristen Brokaw: Yeah, and I think just to know they’re not alone, they don’t know everything. They want to hear how other people would address something. They want to know who they can refer to. They want to be confident in who they’re referring to. They want to make sure they’re keeping up on the latest of whatever it is they’re supposed to know about because they get busy. The friends too, they just make great friends. They love being around people just like them.
James Maskell: Absolutely. Well, great. Well look, I guess the final question I want to ask for both of you is that Kristen I’ve learned so much from you over the last few years, having set this all into motion and then met someone who’d really built something that was truly sustainable. Where practitioners, it’s past the point of… That everyone pays to come to the events, they want to be there, there’s a waiting list for practitioners to be part of it. There’s just such a high demand, and actually having come and done an event there as well back in 2018, just felt the energy of the community and the reverence they have for you is really powerful.
Obviously, you had gone a step beyond, in that you had the SLiiM website that had a practitioner listing, and that also had upcoming events and ways for people to connect. Now with this technology, we’re able to facilitate that sort of website for every community, and that all of those websites will be similar enough. Even if a practitioner moved to a new state or a new city, they’d be able to connect into a new community and there would be standards across the group. So, you guys have been in on the ground level and we’ve been discussing this for a while.
What do you envision for the future of your communities now that you both have built a foundational presence in the community? You have the attention and trust of the doctors. What do you think is possible with this next layer of organization? And what would you like to see in the next five or 10 years in your respective cities?
Kristen Brokaw: I think there’ll be able to refer to people in other cities that they’ve not been able to before. I think having even some type of a get together, a symposium, even if it was virtual or whatever. All of us together, I mean, James that’s what you built with the Functional Forum, is to have this kind of thing but for all doing it at the same time. I think that would be super cool.
And I also think talking about building your practice. We keep bringing that up, but you go to a symposium and they’re not really about functional medicines it’s not about building your practice, it’s clinical. And I can see the future of this being clinical, but that other side that’s needed, which is building your practice, just having the right resources, just ways you need to be thinking in the future of medicine.
Toni Wolley: Yeah. I would say for Indianapolis, my vision for the future for me is I definitely want to take a page out of Kristen’s book and build more of a directory. And I know that I’m working on doing that obviously through Evo Med and some of the things that we’re doing and partnering with. But I want to create more of a larger platform for people to stay connected. Not necessarily just through me, but just so they constantly have connection with one another.
And I know a big focus of mine in the future too, is to grow more of a traditional-minded practitioner into my group. Because I would say if I had to put a percentage on it, 80 to 90% of the people that come are integrative practices, or even locally, people that don’t necessarily have a practice but are integrative minded. And so I want to grow that part of my practice, where I want more specialty doctors kind of coming in and joining.
Kristen Brokaw: Because they’re needed, oh my goodness, I met a pediatrician the other day and I said, “Listen, we need you. We have one in our group, but we need another.” And I mean, more dentists, we will fill your practice. This group will fill your practice, so.
Toni Wolley: It’s funny that you say that because my next event in November, the large integrative dentist’s offices… Or not actually November, my large event in January. I got my integrative dentists, one of them, here to speak. Because I think it’s such a huge area of medicine people don’t know about. And so I try to get people that speak for me, people that I know people need to learn from. And that is definitely like a huge hole.
Kristen Brokaw: Yes, yes.
James Maskell: I think if you do something unique in the community, there’s definitely an opportunity to meet the people who could refer to you. And that might go all the way through healthcare, but it also goes beyond healthcare. I remember, some of the Functional Forum, we used to have guys who did mold remediation came, because they knew that a lot of these doctors were the ones uncovering mold as a causative factor in people’s health. And then people either have to move home or they have to do the remediation. And so they recognized that there was real value in connecting to these practitioners.
Yeah. And ultimately, I think, as this community grows we become even more of a powerful force in the local communities. My hope is that as these groups really start to connect, that there will be more ways in which we can wake up many more people in the local communities that this is the kind of care that you’re looking for. And over time see ways in which functional medicine can really start to take its rightful place, either as a specialty or as the future of primary care, if delivered in a slightly different way. Because we have to get really good at preventing chronic disease before it happens and reversing it when it does happen. Certainly, I think, that the practitioners in our community hold the key to that, but we need to get organized.
And to your point there about COVID Kristen, politics that are outside of all of our control will determine whether or not this organized network of practitioners is either the future of primary care and the future of medicine or an underground healer network. And that’s not really like for us, we can’t really decide that, but I will say that whichever way the future takes us, being organized and doing amazing work will always help the cause. And so I’m just really excited to see just how much value practitioners get from these communities.
And now finally having sort of done one iteration of this really feeling, knowing people like yourselves, knowing that if we get the right people in these communities, that these communities will stand the test of time and that the functional medicine ecosystem can grow almost exponentially locally because there is a safe place in each city where new doctors who are feeling disenfranchised by the current state of health care can show up and fall back in love with medicine. That was the title of the book with Evo Med and I still think it’s true. Doctors are ready to fall back in love with medicine. They just need to meet the aspirational adopters who love what they do every day and that’s definitely happening in the clinics around the country. So, any final words before we clock off here?
Toni Wolley: No, I would just say thanks for having me. And I would just encourage people in their cities find local passionate people that are willing to start these communities for reps that are out there, people that have a passion for connecting people, just do it. You know what I mean? You can kind of figure things out as you go. And I just encourage people to kind of take that leap to just start it.
Kristen Brokaw: I don’t know if this is helpful, but I just got this email from a provider who’s moving and he’s so sad to leave. And he says “I have found the connections I have made in the SLiiM community to be both synergistic and transformative to my work. I have been proud to be a part of what you have created through SLiiM. I believe that the St Louis community needs what you bring now more than ever. I have a deep passion for holistic health practices and it has been an honor to have worked with such a diverse group of amazing professionals working to offer a variety of those kinds of services. I believe you are doing groundbreaking work and I will be sad to miss it.”
Toni Wolley: That’s awesome.
James Maskell: That was perfect timing.
Kristen Brokaw: Yeah.
James Maskell: Well look, I’m super excited to share that the functional medicine, integrative medicine community is coming in behind this idea. If you go to functionalforum.com, you can see the initial, we have about 30 communities that are launching. We have organizations like Orthomolecular, Quicksilver Scientific, Metagenics, Genova, Freedom Practice Coaching, and Biocidin, and many others are realizing that this is going to be an important part. If you are a practitioner listening to this go and, you can request a community, or you can join a community if it already exists. If you want to start a community, share this email, share this interview with maybe your favorite supplement or lab rep and maybe there’s a good partnership that can happen between practitioners and reps.
And more than anything, I just want to acknowledge both of you because this can be a little bit overwhelming for someone who’s coming into the industry and playing this role. But one thing that I see between you is a level of mentorship, Kristen, that you’ve offered for other reps within your organization. And part of what we’re looking to do here at the Evolution of Medicine is to provide high-quality education and mentorship for meetup hosts, community hosts, so that we can really reduce the barriers to entry and make it easy for any person that’s passionate about the transformation of health care in their community play more of a leading role.
So check out functionalforum.com. You’ll see that there is a new website. You’ll see that you can go to our communities, request to community, apply to build a community. And we’re super excited about this next iteration of the Evolution of Medicine. Thank you so much for everyone for listening in. Hope to see you on the Functional Forum live on November 1st from Boulder, eight o’clock Eastern. I will be showcasing all of the territories and all the communities that we have launching at that moment. And this has been the Evolution of Medicine podcast. I’ve been with Toni Wolley and Kristen Brokaw, both leaders of their community and both reps for orthomolecular products. Thanks so much for tuning in, and we’ll see you next time.
James Maskell: Thanks for listening to the evolution of medicine podcast. Please share this with colleagues who need to hear it. Thanks so much to our sponsors, the Lifestyle Matrix Resource Center. This podcast is really possible because of them. Please visit goevomed.com/lmrc to find out more about their clinical tools like the group visit toolkit. That’s goevomed.com/lmrc. Thanks so much for listening and we’ll see you next time.
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