Dr. Terry Wahls is an internationally renowned physician and creator of the Wahls Protocol, an integrative approach to healing chronic autoimmune conditions. Having been diagnosed with secondary progressive MS herself, Dr. Wahls restored her own health through the development and use of the eponymous protocol, which now brings relief to autoimmune sufferers around the globe. Her interview inspires us to be patient – both with ourselves and those we serve – and to prioritize empathy in our work.
Your accomplishments are incredibly inspiring. In addition to being a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa and an internationally renowned physician, you developed a protocol that reversed the symptoms of your autoimmune disease (MS) and is now helping tens of thousands do the same. Professionally speaking, what has been your road to success and the most important success factors along the way?
I certainly wouldn’t have been able to do any of this if I hadn’t gotten my life back from multiple sclerosis, which means gratitude is at the core of not just my work but who I am. It was my love of my family that kept me up all those night during the 00’s researching and working on the Wahls Protocol that eventually helped restore nearly all of my motor function and mental clarity. Without that passion, I wouldn’t have enjoyed this personal success or professional success. I’m fortunate enough to have my personal and professional success in alignment, which certainly helps, too.
What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced professionally and how have you overcome them?
The biggest challenge I faced professionally was resistance to the protocol from my colleagues, because what I was doing was so innovative. I just kept the focus on the basic science, the biochemistry, and really trying to understand what was happening at the cellular level. The amazing clinical results from our initial studies certainly helped, too. With a lot of patience and a lot of science, I slowly won them over, and eventually, many of my skeptics became some of my best champions. What shocks me most is that when you consider how slowly traditional medicine typically moves, I won a lot of them over at breakneck speed.
Were there any initial mistakes you made that you would tell a new holistic professional running their own practice to avoid?
Especially in this line of work, it’s easy to feel like you’re running out of time. I had to learn that it is no coincidence that “patient” is the word we use to describe those we’re trying to help in medicine. Whether you’re practicing medicine, working as a health coach, writing diet plans as a nutritionist—you have to be patient. Do not get irritated, and always be courteous. Empathy gets talked about a lot, but not a lot of people really stop to think about how difficult being empathetic really is. Actually putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is a lot of work, but it’s worth it every single time.
You are an excellent example of a practitioner integrating holistic and conventional research and medicine. In hindsight, what advice would you give to an aspiring integrative practitioner in terms of an educational pathway? Pursue an MD then receive additional training through an organization like the Institute for Functional Medicine, or something different?
It really depends on your passion. There are marvelous opportunities for people who want to be coaches, for people who want to be nutritionists, who want to grow this movement, who want to be medical doctors. All of these roles are important, and we need good people working in all these areas.
What is your favorite indulgence?
Chamomile tea with coconut milk and shot of rum.
Last book you read?
Always Hungry by David Ludwig.
What is your go-to breakfast?
A homemade smoothie that includes greens and berries.
What do you love most about the work you do?
I love teaching. It’s incredibly rewarding to see my colleagues understand the basic science of what we’re doing and to see the public reap the rewards of this work. Every day, I’m grateful to have my life back, and I wake up every morning hoping that today is the day someone else gets his or her life back, too.
Dr. Terry Wahls is an MD and clinical professor of medicine based out of Iowa. You can find out more about her and her work at www.terrywahls.com.