Penney Stringer, a family medicine physician, shares her journey into functional medicine and her experiences moving in and out of conventional medicine. Dr. Stringer shares anecdotes from her exceptionally successful HealCommunity group. Listen in to hear Dr. Stringer and James explore:
- The power of community in medicine
- How patients with chronic illness are underserved
- The importance of group support for behavior change
- 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 week, we featured Dr. Penney Stringer. She’s a family medicine doctor. In this podcast you are going to hear about how she came to practice medicine and wanted to practice medicine. The impact that naturopathic medicine had on her as she was starting her journey towards understanding patient care. She shares with us a new version or a new definition of what underserved means to her and how she’s always served the underserved. And then we also talked about virtual groups. Dr. Stringer is a customer of HealCommunity, and that means we are running virtual groups for her in association with her practice. And we talked about a number of incredible transformations that have happened in her groups. And so if you’re interested in finding out more about Heal Community, check out, healcommunity.com. It was a really powerful half an hour, really amazing to see how virtual healing groups can be a successful adjunct to almost any type of practice. Enjoy.
James Maskell: A warm welcome to the Evo Med Podcast. Dr. Penney Stringer. Welcome doctor.
Penney Stringer: Thank you. So happy to be here.
James Maskell: I’m excited to connect with you because ultimately we’ve had a chance to spend some time together in the last few months. And there’s so much that I think we can bring to bear as far as how we really optimize the practice of functional medicine and then sort of fulfill on the promise of functional medicine. But I guess one thing that is in common with every doctor that I’ve met who finds himself in this world that there’s some story or some sort of triggering event that led to you practicing in this way. So, when did you know that you wanted to be a doctor, and when did you know that you wanted to be a functional medicine doctor?
Penney Stringer: Wow, that’s a great question. So for some reason I wanted to be a doctor since I was a little kid. I don’t know why. It turns out that my great, great grandmother was one of the first women physicians in New York state at the turn of the century. And I didn’t know anything about her when I had this inkling of the desire to be a doctor, but my grandmother wrote a book about her when I was in med school. And she actually came to George… My grandmother came to Georgetown and presented her book about this woman that I’d never met and didn’t really know much about. But anyway, I think that’s in my bloodline, but, besides that, I don’t really know, but it was just something I knew I was going to be. I majored in Spanish literature in college, but I knew I was going to be a doctor.
I lived in Spain during college. I did all these other things, but I knew I was going to be a doctor. I took time off in between college and medical school to bike across the United States for some reason with my friends, but I knew I was going to be a doctor. And so I just kept looking into it. I knew I was going to be a doctor the whole time and pursued other interests, then came back to do medical school and worked, did residency in a cowboy residency clinic in Martinez, California, so that I could do appendectomies and be a rural family doctor. I thought I was going to be an international and rural family doctor. And I had the training to do so out of residency with C-sections and appendectomies. But I went to Africa and quickly learned that without teaching girls how to read and without clean water, all of my special training is not going to do much good. So I kind of veered off and went into more natural medicine.
James Maskell: Yeah. So tell me about that journey into natural medicine. Was there a sort of a moment, and where did you search out first?
Penney Stringer: Yeah. There were a bunch of moments. I was lucky in medical school to have… I went to Georgetown and Jim Gordon who runs The Center for Mind-Body Medicine was my mentor. And I worked in his clinic, and he was actually teaching nutrition. My first year of medical school, he was teaching nutrition as an elective. And who takes electives during their first year of medical school? But I was so drawn to learning about nutrition and meditation, which are the two classes he was teaching as an elective. And I had already done transcendental meditation in college, and I was very into nutrition and transcendental meditation. And so I was drawn to his clinic and spent as much time as I could with him.
And he always told me, he said, learn allopathic medicine and be really good at it. And then you can do whatever you want. And that was the mantra he taught me my first year of medical school. He was the main person who made sense during medical school because he connected the dots of how our bodies are programmed to heal. And it was really his… and he did acupuncture, and he would have all these diplomats come to his office. And I would be this freshman, just this young, wide-eyed medical student, just watching what he did and seeing the potions that he would give people and the acupuncture needles and how they would get so much better and how he would go deep into their psyche.
And it was just so eye opening, and then his guru from India came. And Jim invited all these medical students to the party where the guru was. And it was just completely eye opening to me that there was this whole other world of healing. And I always had that in my mind because that was my first year of medical school. Then I did the whole rest of the training, but I just kept remembering Jim would say, to learn it really well, learn allopathic medicine really well. And then do what’s in your heart, do what’s in your heart.
James Maskell: So tell us about that because, ultimately, I think a lot of practitioners even more now have some sort of moment and then they need to go and find a way to practice with what they know. But it’s not always easy to do that. Forever, the only path really was entrepreneurship because there wasn’t anyone hiring to do this. You had to forge your own path in your local community. So, but then also you have to be in a community of other doctors that didn’t have that same education with Jim Gordon. And they came from all medical schools and now you’re in the same town. So what was it like holding that torch in the context of the rest of your medical education not being Jim Gordon focused and then coming into wherever you started practicing and interacting with other doctors?
Penney Stringer: Yeah, so right after residency, my first job was at a community health center near Seattle in Redmond. And it was one of the only federally funded clinics that was affiliated with a naturopathic medical school. So it was affiliated with Bastyr University, and I was there to be a family doc. But there was in the clinic, there was a… and I was hired to deliver babies and do regular family medicine in Redmond, which now is like… it’s still the home of Microsoft, but there was a huge immigrant population there. And there was a naturopath on staff who was paying all her student loans. There was an acupuncturist who was a professor from Bastyr. There was a naturopathic supplement formulary that was… could be used by their Medicare and Medicaid. There was a pediatrician, me as an OB family doc and a really good nurse.
And so, I got really lucky because it was right out of residency I got to work in this skill. And what I realized I was doing, I was left holding the prescription pad. But what I knew was going to help my patients was to have them go see the naturopath and the nutritionist and the counselor and acupuncturist. And I was prescribing vitamins, but what I was left doing was writing the prescription for things I didn’t believe in. I knew that they wouldn’t help them ultimately. And so interestingly, I had a medical student, so I was also training naturopathic medical students to come and see what family practice was like. But I had one of my medical students from Bastyr; she worked for Metagenics. This was in 2000.
She worked for Metagenics, and she invited me. She was like, “you should come to some of these lectures, here you go. Here’s the time and place.” And right about that same exact time, I had a patient. This is my pivotal moment right here. I had a patient who was a young, Hispanic man. I spoke Spanish because that’s what I majored in, Spanish, in college. And he had ankylosing spondylitis, which is an autoimmune disease that fuses your spine. And all I could do for him was give him ibuprofen and naproxen and pain meds. And that’s why he came to see me, and occasional steroids. But one day, he came back, and he was completely better. I expected to have to write for the prescription, but he’s like, “no doc, I just came to tell you I’m all better.”
And I was like, what’s going on? And he showed me this test he had had from the naturopath, which was a gut microbiome test back in 2000, which is the old time microbiome test. And he had been given fish oil and antibiotics, and his back was all better. He wasn’t in pain. He wasn’t suffering. He was able to work. And that’s when I… like my eyes just opened. And I was like, this is what I thought I was going to learn about in medical school, how it’s all connected, how the inflammation’s connected. And at the same time, I was going to Jeffrey Bland lectures in 2000 and having my mind open. And I was like, oh, and then one day I was riding… going home from the clinic, and I was driving across the 520 bridge, which is always backed up.
And this voice in my head said, “one day, this way of practicing medicine became intolerable.” And I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to do it any much longer. I couldn’t keep doing things that I knew were going to be harming my patients, and I needed to learn this. I needed to learn functional medicine. And then I went to acupuncture school and then got into functional medicine. And I took my first AFMCP class in Boston in 2003, so I’ve been doing it ever since then. And then I met a woman in this town where I live now, Richland, who had a functional medicine practice. She’d been doing it for 15 years. She was my mentor. She had a five-year waiting list of new patients. The hospital recruited me, paid my salary for two years and I had this mentor right there. So it’s been an amazing journey, and it was about listening to my heart and realizing that it was such a much bigger picture than what we learned in medical school.
James Maskell: Yeah, amazing. Well, I love that story, and it seems like so many doctors that mentorship is so critical, because you can go and you can learn at the conference. But then it’s like, do you actually put it into practice? And one of the things that I had found early on going to all these conferences, I would meet a lot of doctors that were doing it on their significant other and doing it on their kids. And they had a small friend circle but ultimately had this day job that you are speaking to. They had this day job. And I guess one of the focuses early on with the Evolution of Medicine was: how do we make it easier for people to sort of break out and go and do this? Because ultimately as long as people are only working on a few people while they’re still building their skills, while they have a day job, the potential of functional medicine to make an impact on more lives is being limited. So that sounds like a great situation. So, how long did that go on and were there any other steps along the way that helped you think about optimal patient care differently?
Penney Stringer: So I think also most of us have had our own health struggles, and I myself had parasites from all my world travels and gluten sensitivity that I didn’t know about until I knew about it. And then, so I think a personal journey too, but I was so lucky because I took the AFMCP class. And I got recruited by the hospital to work in this town in Richmond, Washington, but it was all planned because the woman I was going to be mentoring with… I was going to be helping funding this new clinic. And she had all the patients and all the knowledge, and she needed a partner. And, from day one right after AFMCP, I had all functional medicine practice, complete functional medicine practice.
Since I left that federally funded clinic, I’ve done all functional medicine. And even when I had my second child, and I went through a divorce, and I had a newborn and a two-year-old, and I took some time off. But then I wanted to go back to work and do medicine, but I didn’t want to run a business at that time with a little baby and a two-year-old.
So I went back to the federally funded clinic here to do refugee medicine and all the stuff I love and speak different languages and all that. But what I found was happening is when my older patients, my functional medicine patients, found that I was back in town, they all started showing up at the community health center in the waiting room with all the grandparents and the little babies and the kids and all the different languages. And my 10-minute appointments became longer appointments because what I realized I always was committed to working for underserved. But what I realized is my underserved were actually people with chronic health conditions that were not being served by Western medicine.
And so my whole patient clientele became insured patients coming to the community health center. So I was bringing money into the community health center, which was good, but I wasn’t having the same amount of time that I needed. So they pushed me to realize what my definition of underserved was. And they pushed me to start my clinic again with babies and all that, and I did it. So in 2012, I started my clinic up again. So I don’t know if that was the answer to your question, but-
James Maskell: That’s really interesting because I went to the… I’ve been to the integrated medicine for the underserved conference, and I got really inspired by Dr. Galler, and it really inspired me to write the book on group visits because there is this notion of underserved means underfunded and under connected to resources. And I think what you’re saying there is that there’s also this other group of people that are underserved where they have a chronic illness that could obviously be dealt with much more effectively by functional medicine or by a medicine that honors the healing capacity of the body. But that ultimately they become underserved because they’re just being put on meds again and again and again. And so I really resonate with that.
James Maskell: So we connected in this last phase, which is like I’d written the book on group visits, and you had come to some understanding that that was something that you wanted to at least work with a little bit more. So I guess, can you just share sort of how that mental journey went for you going from seeing people one-by-one to now thinking about group care?
Penney Stringer: Yeah, so I’ve loved group care from the very beginning. So when I was in Seattle at the Redmond clinic, I ran some diabetes groups and then I got trained in mind-body medicine through Jim Gordon’s Center for Mind Body Medicine and got my advanced training through there. And so ever since 2001 or two, I’ve been leading those mind-body skills groups, and I’m in love with group. I want medicine to be about group visits. That’s my next chapter of my career is running groups, and there’s something so amazing and magical. It happens in groups and I’ve been in groups and I know what that’s like, but you have curriculum and you have education and you have information. But then there’s this beauty of the support that happens when people get together and are sharing this commitment to healing that is… you can’t predict what’s going to happen.
It’s a magical force. It’s just a magical force. And I witness it over and over again and with the pandemic and so many people are isolated and so many people have just been in their homes on a screen. And I was dancing—I do ecstatic dance. So I was dancing and… during the pandemic, by myself, not in a group. And it just came to me that, oh my gosh, this is my chance to work with my best friends to lead groups. So I was able to work leading these mind-body groups with one of my best friends from medical school. And so the groups are where it’s at, James. You are so on with this. I still want to do anything I can to help spread this movement of running groups for functional medicine for healing. And I think this model that you have is so beautiful.
And so I think it will change medicine and… which is why I jumped at the chance to see what it’s like to be a physician who’s supporting this movement. So group visits are where it’s at. And I think the thing about what you have is showing that it could be billed through insurance is really like… that’s one barrier you took away for people in implementing this.
James Maskell: Well, I really want to dive into this with you because ultimately what I recognize straight away is that there would be a certain group of functional medicine doctors that bill insurance, which there are not that many at all. But they would get it. They would understand that, okay, behavior change is critical. It’s not easy to do it in the insurance model. Here’s a structure. So our first clinic with HealCommunity that we started with was exactly that, and then this year we’ve started to work with more clinics like yours. And what’s really exciting now is starting to see that allopathic doctors with no training in functional medicine would prescribe a group and want a group because, if you take away this sort of functional medicine language from it, it’s actually quite appetizing for a doctor to think that there could be a way to get the patients that they know need behavior change to actually do the behavior change.
James Maskell: And it’s even more exciting to sort of essentially create… which I think what we’ve created now is almost a population-level delivery system for functional medicine light, I guess, because it’s really focused on the behavior change and not the labs and the supplements. But yeah, I’d love to just get your experience now of running this HealCommunity group and your experience as a physician. And then, I’d love to just hear about some of the experiences that your patients had.
Penney Stringer: Yeah, so thank you for the opportunity. I actually don’t see this as just about functional medicine at all. I think it’s ideal for just a family medicine practice or a community health center practice or even a specialty practice. And it’s kind of interesting to think that I had to go through all this training, medical school and residency, and all this extra training to, in the end, really how I help people, is teaching them how to eat, teaching them how to breathe, teaching about the mindset that’s holding them back and their limiting beliefs, and getting them supported with community. It’s kind of wild that… and the MD somehow makes them listen to us. It’s a lot of work to teach the real basics of how the body heals. But why I love the group dynamic and your curriculum that you guys have developed is really, as a doctor, we all know you don’t have that much time in the meeting with your patient.
And the magic happens after they leave and if they implement things and if they actually go and research what you talk to them about. But these groups… they actually have support. They really hone in on lifestyle changes. They really hone in on the mindset. The coaches you have are phenomenal. The ones that I got to work with are phenomenal. And then they have this, the group support, which is like, who has that? Most people nowadays don’t have that. So I think for any subject, those are the key elements to the change battle and making meaningful changes and changes that are going to affect their longevity.
James Maskell: Let’s jump into that because, during the groups, I don’t normally have that much visibility into what’s happening. I see the outcomes, and we’re tracking all the outcomes through PROMIS 29. But in your case, there were some messages that I was getting from you and from Elizabeth, the coach, that was talking about some significant things that were happening in the group. And I will say from our perspective, the cohesion that was happening in your group is something that we learned a lot from because something’s happening in your clinic that’s not happening in some of these other clinics where the people were really cohesive from day one. Typically, it takes us a month to actually build that level of cohesion.
But something about the energy of your clinic meant that there was real cohesion straight away. So I don’t know if you have the answer to why that is and maybe you are too in it to understand. But that is something that I would feed back to you, but I’d love for you to share some of those patient stories because they were really amazing and very heartwarming and exciting to receive as someone who’s participating in building this.
Penney Stringer: Yeah, I went for a hike this morning, and I was just thinking about the people in the group. It was a really remarkable group of… it was all women, I think. So it was touted as an immune group, but people had all kinds of issues that they were dealing with, including a bunch of them had either had cancer or dealing with active cancer at the time. But one story that I just have to share with the world is my patient, Pat, who… she’s basically signed up for anything I’ve offered from mind–body medicine to all my seminars, webinars, whatever. She just does whatever I recommend. She’ll just do it. And she’s had her own health challenges for certain, all kinds of fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue and early hysterectomy from endometriosis and lots of stress in her life and all that.
But she never stops trying. And so she signed up for this. She was the first one and she paid cash because I don’t take Medicare, so she’s Medicare and she paid cash. I had another patient who paid cash as well who’s Medicare and everyone else went through insurance. But Pat, okay, so she’s one month shy of her 84th birthday, and she had had it in her mind, her entire life. She’s from Wenatchee, which is three hours from where I live, but she’d had it in her mind that she wanted to hike on Mount Rainier. And she’s looked at Mount Rainier from her window most days her last 20 years. And she just really wants to do it. And the support of the group and her desire to fulfill on some of these promises she had to herself. I think the group was really critical in this.
Plus she’s an exceptional person. But during this, our group started in August; we ended it in December. During this, I think it was October, so she went to Mount Rainier. Actually, I went with her, so did my daughter, so did her two sons and her grandson. And we all went Mount Rainier, we took her to Mount Rainier, and she hiked on this very rugged terrain, five miles from Paradise Lodge, which is really high up already. She hiked around this rock loop. The thing is, she did it. She’s had her knee replaced, but every person she passed on that trip was great. It’s all the things that the group teaches. She showed gratitude. She was happy to be alive. And she made it. Most people can’t. It was, I mean, it’s high altitude and really rocky terrain.
It’s not a paved path. It’s rocky, big rocks, you step over. She did it. And then she brought that back to the group and told them. And most of the people in the group were half her age, but it’s remarkable. She should be the poster child for this group and what’s possible because she’s now 84 and now she’s… okay, get this, she’s worked with a personal trainer three days a week. Many days she clocks 20,000 steps with her little, yappy dog, and she’s doing it. She’s stronger than she’s been in years and she’s 84. Anyway, that’s Pat.
James Maskell: That was such a great story and seeing the photo of you guys all up on Mount Rainier was incredible. And I think one of the things that happens in the group is that one person’s story affects the other people’s story quite profoundly. So I know that that was like a highlight for you. And obviously you are fully participating in going there and bringing your family along, and it’s an amazing story. How did that affect other people in the group?
Penney Stringer: Well, yeah, it’s really interesting. So they had people pair up with accountability partners, and it just so happens that the woman she paired up with, they had a really similar life story, life path, even career path. And the one younger woman was going through this career change, and Pat had been through something similar. So they were able to share that. And then the woman she paired up with had an immune issue with recurrent herpes virus. But through the group—I could tell you about her too—through the group, she ended up realizing that her recurrent herpes was all about self-love. I mean, she got it by the fourth or fifth visit and in my six-minute talk with her. These aren’t just normal six-minute breakaways from the group.
We go deep, we go deep and my patients are just used to that. But she realized it was about self-love. So I can’t wait to find out how she’s doing this a couple months later around the recurrent herpes. But I have lots of stories like that. And another woman who runs a physical therapy office in Walla Walla, which is about an hour from here, university town, and, out of the group, when they look at their whole pie of how their life is going, out of the group, she was able to really claim self-care and actually start working two hours ahead of her normal schedule so that she had two hours of uninterrupted time to be able to get her work done and then leave early. And that sounds like something simple but that would not have happened without a group support and her really dialing in and looking at her life. So I actually have a bunch of stories that are really remarkable what happened in that six-
James Maskell: Yeah, it’s amazing. You think it’s going to be a health group, but ultimately people realize they go upstream and they think, “well, how would my stress be affected? Well, if I could get two hours of uninterrupted work and I could leave two hours early, I would have that time.” It’s a big deal. I remember in the very first group that we ran, someone came in and was basically like, “my nutrition is perfect. My stress is perfect. I’ve been doing this for a long time, but I’m addicted to social media, and I’m committed to being un-addicted to social media.” And that was her goal. And it was really amazing because I think we all know that social media affects our health, but there’s no way that you’re dealing with your social media addiction in a primary care office or in a family med office or in a specialty office.
It’s a lifestyle component. But ultimately, if you have a group where you set your own goals, that’s one of the unique things early on in the group is that we have everyone set their smart goals, which is a critical thing in behavior change. People in business know that. People trying to get employee retention. Smart goals is critical. And I think all doctors would understand that it’s a powerful force to activate someone into their own goals. But do you have time to get people into that kind of process? And we really have to… we really do make time for people to get in there because someone’s setting their own goal for what they want in their health in six months. There’s nothing more powerful than that.
Penney Stringer: Yeah, I totally agree. I think the smart goal setting is really powerful and it’s super simple. You’re like, why can’t we just do this on our own? But we don’t, we don’t. And I also love the coaching. We had Elizabeth as our coach, and I love that she takes the time to have some office hours with people on the side or as part of the program but in addition to the group meeting,
James Maskell: Do you have examples of more specific health outcomes, where it’s like this person achieved this in the time?
Penney Stringer: Yeah, actually, the patient, Christie, she was a new patient to me, but she was going through perimenopausal symptoms, and she had anxiety from a rough family upbringing and some PTSD from an alcoholic mother. And she was just told, “you’re just getting old.” And she was starting to have palpitations and insomnia really bad and palpitations that were debilitating her daily existence and her sleep. And she considered herself healthy. She was not overweight. She was fit. She was in a good relationship, all that, but out of the smart goal… and she had just moved to this area, so she didn’t have a lot of friends here. But out of the smart goal setting, she started implicating exercise and she loved exercise. She just wasn’t as committed to it, but she really committed to it. And actually her palpitations got so much better, and her sleep got so much better, and she just felt so much better.
Her anxiety was so much more relieved when she exercised regularly, and the group helped support her in that goal. And she’s one of the testimonials I sent you about. She thought she was healthy; she was healthy enough. Compared to everyone else, she was healthy enough, but she was really not feeling great. And out of the group, it was remarkable, the changes.
James Maskell: That’s incredible, going back to what you said before, just sort of the very basics of what the body needs to heal. And in many cases for most people, it’s not something very tricky that only a functional medicine doctor can work out. There are definitely those cases. And we feature on the Evolution of Medicine all the time these very complex cases that have found their way into functional medicine doctor’s offices because they were taking the systems biology approach, the root cause approach. But if you look out into the midst of medicine and what the biggest issues are that we have to solve, probably more look a little bit more like that. It’s like, what happens when people execute these healthy behaviors consistently?
And I think that’s why the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, everyone goes through the group before they get the individualized care because half the people get better without needing to see the doctor. And I think if we want functional medicine to reach its potential as a tool that can really impact health at a big enough scale to move the needle, I think there’s a lot that can happen there that I think the groups are an important part for many reasons. And one of them is just that, do the patients actually do the changes? And I think that we may be experiencing a world where in one-on-one care, a few patients do it, but most don’t, and that’s because they’re either not fully convinced or they just… it’s not easy enough for them to do that. Or they don’t have the right support in their friendship groups. And I think that by creating a new cohort, a new group of people that are all going to be supportive in this transformation, it’s sort of like the minimum viable, if you want to get a group of people healthy.
Penney Stringer: Yeah, and it goes along with my idea that the reason I kept working in insurance is because I really believe what you’re doing, what we’re doing, is the real primary care medicine. So I really feel like primary care is not the way we’ve defined it in family medicine. It’s really about these change models, these mindset change models, behavioral change, lifestyle, nutrition, breathing, sunlight, sleep. All these basic things, if you could address those, how many people would go on to develop autoimmunity and hypertension and diabetes? But we kind of have it backwards. Primary care is giving the medicine for these conditions, and then there’s no time for the other stuff. So that’s why I’ve stayed in insurance is because I feel like I want to do primary care, but my idea of primary care is completely different. And so is yours, I can tell.
James Maskell: No, absolutely. Well, look, I guess, I would love to just thank you for sharing all of those examples, and I know that there’s many more in your practice generally of these transformations. I want to just ask you a little bit about… you are obviously pro-group and you’d run a lot of groups before we came along and now you’ve had an opportunity to sort of like outsource the group to this virtual coaching delivery system. But I know also you are in constant thought about what do I want my practice to look like and what do I want to be doing every day? And I’d love for you to share, what has this experience meant to you as far as how you want to organize your life and your care in the time that you will continue to practice?
Penney Stringer: Thanks for the question. So, yeah, I’m in the process of really brainstorming my next chapter in my practice of medicine. And what I realize is I love teaching about these basic subjects, and I love getting people together in a healing environment and letting that magic that comes into a group to heal. There’s just something that happens to be able to facilitate that magic for people. And so I’m in a big process of transforming my practice. And actually, I’m going to take a sabbatical the next couple months to really regroup and redefine what it means to want to be at the helm of leading this healing movement and part of that’s about self-care. You can’t teach your patients about self-care without also doing a deep dive for yourself.
And I’m like, okay, what makes me the most happy? I’m just going to go for what makes me most happy, and it usually turns out really well when I do that. So that’s what I’m in the process of doing. And for me, what makes me most happy is teaching, being in groups, having time to be outside, being with my kids and being in nature. So I’m going to see what that looks like in the next year, if I just really do radical self-care, if I embrace radical self-care and be in tune with the natural cycles of healing and rebirth and regrowth and seeing what happens. But it will involve a lot of groups. In fact, I just got my website live yesterday, my new website, and it’s all about group programs is what I’m developing. So that’s—stay tuned.
James Maskell: No, it’s really exciting. And I guess I just want to appreciate you for believing in this plan and this vision and connecting to it. I really appreciate you connecting us to other doctors that you think would like to do this but could never really execute the group side of things. My dream is that this becomes a sort of standard of care. Even in allopathic medicine that… even with doctors that have no training in functional medicine, they can still prescribe an episode of care. People can still go through a process of self-discovery. And because of the nature of the way it’s created: a virtual delivery system that’s technology enabled and that’s scalable and uses coaches as the sort of primary point of connection and uses doctors as the secondary point of connection. That it is scalable and that it can scale to solve the level of the need, which is always something that… when I had to take a step back in 2019 just to think, can whatever I’m working on solve the actual problem that I’m trying to solve?
And I recognized that, although I had got a lot of incredible benefit and joy and enjoyed the process of helping doctors to go functional, which was I think my work for the decade before that… I recognized that even if we took that program, took that journey to a tenth degree, it wouldn’t necessarily solve the issues in these federally qualified healthcare centers. And it wouldn’t solve the refugee population and their issues. Whereas this project, I think could take into its natural conclusion, could do that and could do that while being not even a threat to conventional medicine, not even in competition with conventional medicine, but just something that is obviously needed that has not been worked out and is informed by functional medicine but is not necessarily communicating outward to it that it is functional medicine because that’s not always hyper palatable to people in hospitals and federally qualified healthcare centers and ACOs and employers and all the other people that this needs to go through in order to hit everyone.
So thank you for believing in it. Thank you for participating in it fully. Thank you for helping us. We learn a lot from having a group that was prescribed by Penney Stringer because there were things that were unique that we learned through that process that we’ve brought to other groups that has really aided in the cohesion. It’s been really powerful. So, I just want to say thank you for your belief and trust. And I hope that many other doctors who are billing insurance or who see a future where they would like this to happen, but they don’t necessarily think that it’s something they can execute you themselves, that we might find a way to do this at a reasonable enough scale to make an impact. So, thank you.
Penney Stringer: You’re so welcome, James. And I have had my eye on you for a while because I really think that you embody this vision of what’s possible in this whole healing journey, healing cosmos. But I believe that keeping my foot in the water of Western medicine, I would love to help you bring this whole idea into the way that medicine is practiced now because I really feel like it has a key to solving some of the major issues we have with our current model, which is all about disease and not about true healing. And so I’m just so grateful for you following your vision. And I know it comes from a deep place because I feel it, and there’s all these little details to work out, but I feel like it’s there. It’s not far. And so I’m going to keep it alive in my big, deep vision too.
James Maskell: Thank you so much. Well, look, I really appreciate that. Look, if what Dr. Stringer just said resonates with you as you’re listening to this, I’d love to hear from you too. I know there’s a lot of practitioners out there that work inside systems that have always felt like it’s impossible to change. And I would say for the first time, I’m having conversations with the money men in health systems, and they like it because now it’s suddenly profitable where it wasn’t profitable and there’s access where there wasn’t access. So, if this resonates, I’d love to hear from you.
This has been the Evolution of Medicine Podcast. We’ve been talking about one of our partners, HealCommunity, which is something that I’ve been working on for a couple of years to try and make it so easy for any physician, any clinician or any medical organization to access the power of functional medicine groups. And so if you want to find out more about it, you can go to healcommunity.com. Feel free to get in touch in the meantime. Thank you, Dr. Penney Stringer. What is this new website, and how could people find you on it?
Penney Stringer: It’s penneystringermd.com and it’s Penney with an E.
James Maskell: Penney Stringer. I almost called my daughter Penelope. If she came out kind of like English looking, she was going to be Penelope. And if she came out like my wife, a little bit more Latin, she was Kaliana, and she’s called Kaliana. So we waited until she popped out to have the name, so she could have been a Penney. Thank you so much for being part of it. This has been the Evolution of Medicine Podcast. Thanks so much for tuning in, and we’ll see you next time.
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