Dr. Getzelman was named among the Top Women in Medicine and was featured in the National Women in Medicine series by Thrive Global.
Can you share an interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I was in my thirties, after finishing my medical training and working as a “mainstream pediatrician” prior to founding GetzWell, I went on a medical-mission trip. I worked for a month in a hospital clinic in Antigua, Guatemala. Families with children in need of medical and surgical interventions — and even some adults who had lived their entire lives with facial deformities — traveled for many miles to the clinic, lining up for hours in order to get help. It was a tremendously moving and transformative experience.
I witnessed the literal fall-out of babies not receiving proper nutrition in utero. Among the many patterns I witnessed first-hand, I was particularly struck by the prevalence of folate deficiency which produces midline defects like cleft lips and palates. Also evident was the poor nutrition children received after they were born, which we describe as “failure to thrive.”
While serving on the medical team in Guatemala, I became sick with what seemed like the flu. After experiencing some relief, I believed I had recovered. But I ended up with a gut problem that followed me home and haunted me for years. No traditional medical doctor I sought out in California was able to help me. I suffered with chronic abdominal pain and hormonal issues for years. I believe the persistence of the condition was due to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, or SIBO. It wasn’t until I discovered functional medicine and began to address my complaints through that lens that I finally found relief.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I was a one woman show. I started my practice from scratch and was motivated to try new — and sometimes unorthodox — ways of doing things. I was inspired by the appealing promises of the new “share economy.” I had this grand idea that I could be environmentally conscious and save some money by using City Car Share for everything from getting office supplies to doing house calls. So, I sold my car.
At the same time, I had committed that every newborn entering my practice would have their first visit at home. What started as a great idea ended up with me schlepping a baby scale and other necessities for newborn house calls to the nearest City Car. But it turned out that cars which seemed so close on my phone’s tiny screen weren’t that close after all (especially with all the stuff I had to carry.)
Sweaty and harried, I would finally arrive at the often-dirty car, running late and needing to race off to the next appointment. I suffered through this self-inflicted hellscape for a couple of months until it became clear that, in addition to the severe inconvenience, it would have cost me far less to lease my own luxury auto! I drive my own car now and take a Lyft in a pinch.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I don’t know about starting a movement, but as Dr. Mark Hyman, functional medicine doc extraordinaire, says, “the most powerful medicine we have is at the end of our fork.” What we need is a food revolution, a total overhaul of our food system where subsidized and commoditized monocrops like soy and corn become a thing of the past while industrialized food producers are forced to the sidelines so that government “nutrition” guidelines are not as biased as they are today.
One of the reasons for our obesity epidemic is the perverse incentives farmers have to produce these crops that then become ingredients for high-calorie low-nutritional-density fast-foods and Franken-foods. High fructose corn syrup is not just “empty calories.” It’s liver toxic, and it’s found in so many processed foods and drinks. We have kids currently suffering from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which is a result of high-fructose corn syrup and is similar to what alcoholics suffer from!
I think the increasingly high demand for our unique approach is evidence that this revolution is gaining traction — and that’s good news. Our influence has already grown beyond the boundaries of the Bay Area, with GetzWell serving patients and families across the US and as far away as the Philippines.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My hope is that, at GetzWell Pediatrics, our growing team of expert functional health practitioners has not only influenced a generation’s good health with the slow medicine that we’ve provided — emphasizing microbiome/gut health and nutrition — but also that we’ve had an impact on several generations via epigenetic programming. We know from the field of epigenetics that vitamins, nutrition, exercise, stress, love — in short, our environments in the largest sense — impact how our DNA is expressed (without actually changing our basic genetic code.)
This is extremely powerful. Some of these epigenetic changes endure for generations. Others may not present for another generation or two. For example, trauma or extreme calorie deprivation during pregnancy may impact not only the developing fetus’s stress resilience and risk for metabolic syndrome, but also the risk for that fetus’s children and grandchildren. Conversely, a predictable and relatively peaceful home environment, and a pregnancy diet rich in micronutrients such as choline and folate, have a higher likelihood of producing children with greater stress resilience through their lifetimes and, in turn, their offspring’s lives.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Be careful what you wish for (success!): The work never ends. No one told me that starting and growing a successful small business and medical practice would be like having a newborn — for 12 years and counting! Early mornings and middle of the night wake-ups are the norm. The nurturing never ends. I’m everything from the Chief Medical Officer and CEO to the Chief Doorknob Sanitizer. In addition, I’m the GetzWell community leader, wisdom sharer, parenting coach, sleep consultant, child behavior expert, therapist, microbiome specialist and more. And, I should add, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
- The sheer grit and resilience required to stick with it when you have to wear so many hats… and talk down the worried parents of a baby with her first fever at 3AM… and write articles… and give talks… and continue studying… and provide leadership to the team… and make marketing decisions… and… and… and…
- I wish someone had been able to predict that we were opening the practice at the start of the great recession of 2008. Fortunately, we still grew month over month, year over year — and have continued to do so in order to meet the growing demand for our services. I might have made some different hiring decisions at the beginning had I known about the impending economic downturn. On the other hand, I was blissfully unaware as we were building out the office and I was fleshing out my dream. So maybe that was a good thing as it didn’t put a crimp in my creative process or drive.
- The need for the flexibility and creativity required to be able to flow through the numerous, inevitable and often unanticipated hurdles — such as the challenges that present themselves in terms of staff and HR management — can’t be over-emphasized.
- I wanted to have a 21st Century business that was horizontal and nimble, not hierarchical and rigid like so many of the clinic and office settings I’d worked in. But what I discovered is that most people/staff want clarity of roles, boundaries and structure. I had to learn this the hard way.