DR. KEN SHARLIN
This Is My Journey
Physician, writer, athlete, philosopher, healer, guide. These are the words that define my life. These are the words that connect me simultaneously to the earth, the world we see through our eyes, and to the boundarylessness that is beyond space and time. It was not always this way for me. My journey started with a fascination for living writers and science, and science-fiction. As a college student I read Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for A Hat, and knew immediately there was a place in medicine for those like me whose focus is to ask the big questions about life and how we see it or live it, in contrast to those who are driven by the latest procedure or pharmacological discovery. I followed the paths of the poets, first after college while living in Washington, D.C., where by chance, I became a hired assistant to William Meredith, who, following a stroke that left him with limited speech, was unable to read the proofs of his final work, a selection of his best poems and newest poems that would win him the Pulitzer Prize. I attended medical school at Emory University in Atlanta so I could study close to my first mentor, the late Dr. John Stone, cardiologist, essayist, and poet. I chose neurology and moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, for my training where I faced my first great crisis, burned out by long hours, sleepless nights, the immensity of tragedy that characterized the Neuro-Intensive Care Unit at The University of Virginia Hospital, and the stress of an unhealthy marriage. I left my training, sought help for my emotional wounds, and returned a year later with vigor and renewed strength to complete my training at Vanderbilt University. There, my next guide, Dr. Gerald Fenichel, Chairman of the Department of Neurology, taught me to make decisions thoughtfully, but efficiently, and earned my admiration by exemplifying the virtues of trust, kindness, and patience.
Opposites have always defined me — left brain-right brain, quantified science and creativity, objective measurement and abstract thinking. A passion for jazz made me equally comfortable with the predictable driving rhythms of the Count Basie Orchestra and the space-bending compositions of Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane. I did scientific research in graduate school (Public Health), medical school, and residency, and have continued to do clinical research during my professional career.
There have been personal challenges along the way: job, divorce, parenthood. In 2006, I became a recreational cyclist earning my badges, first 28 mile ride, first 50 mile ride, the metric century (62 miles), and the 100 mile “century” ride. With my second wife as my partner we rode for MS, and many other causes. We rode our bicycles across an entire state in the Des Moines Register’s Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa. With my son I discovered the challenges of triathlon and I further shaped my body and my mind. I learned the science of athletic training, aerodynamics, efficiency of movement, sports nutrition, and targeted supplementation. I challenged myself to become what only a few years prior I would have thought was impossible: 140.6 miles of swimming, biking, and running combined in a single day to become an Ironman Triathlon finisher for three consecutive years (2012, 2013, and 2014).
Professionally, I became disillusioned with my chosen career. Medicine had become a heartless algorithm where symptoms were managed with ever-growing lists of medications. There was no attention to root cause resolution. It was not in our training as physicians, nor in our vocabulary. I watched my patients become sicker by the day and felt an increasing resentment about the drugs that provided short-term relief for long-term, complex problems. I struggled with the idea that the insurance company executive had become the “third person in the examination room,” a barrier between the patient and myself, and often seemed to be the primary decision-maker in what I could do to help my patients. The government was no less intrusive. They had all become bedmates: private insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, government bureaucrats. Many of my colleagues did not seem to understand that medicine as a profession had taken this path, and that medicine’s only purpose was finding the next great drug. Where had the humanity gone?
Then, by chance, I found functional medicine. Functional medicine embraces all that I believe in. It gives shape and definition to a previously poorly articulated reason that I went to medical school to become a doctor. With functional medicine I have found my purpose. It is not only “medicine that makes sense,” according to Dr. Mark Hyman, it is medicine that connects mind, body, and spirit. It helps each of us find the imbalances that have tipped the trajectory of our lives down the road of chronic disease, and guides each one of us individually, personally, by helping to re-map and re-route our course back toward health and vitality. It empowers. And, in addition to the transcendent energy focus that is part of functional medicine it is based firmly in science. It embraces food as medicine, sleep, gut health, stress, and our mitochondria. It recognizes the relationship between our genetic blueprint and the environment both within and outside of our bodies that signals the expression of those genes—even across generations.
I have found my voice in functional medicine. I have shared my voice in radio shows and in writing, and most importantly in my office with my patients. I have seen lives changed. I have witnessed the reversal of symptoms in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune disorders. I have seen the metabolic chaos expressed as diabetes reverse course. I have been invited to participate in this growing movement to disrupt healthcare in the United States and around the world. I am one voice, but together with my new-found colleagues and our patients, we will change lives and how we think about medicine one person at a time.
For more information about our services, please visit contact page. We are now accepting general Neurology self referrals and Functional Medicine self referrals.