Dr. Patrick Hanaway: “Seeing Light at the End of the Tunnel; 5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During This Corona Crisis”

Authority Magazine Editorial Staff
Authority Magazine
Published in
10 min readJun 2, 2020


Underneath all of this, there’s an appreciation for the sacredness of life. When I go for a walk, nature doesn’t seem to mind what’s happening; it appears to be thriving. I hear more birds. The clouds look different. I’m hopeful about each of these things.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrick Hanaway, MD — Senior Adviser to the CEO at the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM)

Patrick Hanaway, MD, is a board-certified family physician trained at Washington University. Dr. Hanaway served on the executive committee for the American Board of Integrative Medicine and is past president of the American Board of Integrative Holistic Medicine. For the past 20 years, he has worked with his wife in clinical practice at Family to Family: Your Home for Whole Health Care in Asheville, NC.

After 10 years as chief medical officer at Genova Diagnostics, Dr. Hanaway became the chief medical education officer at The Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), where he oversaw the development and implementation of IFM’s programs worldwide. He has taught with IFM since 2005, he leads the GI Advanced Practice Module, and he continues his support of IFM as co-chair of the Expert Advisory Board.

In 2014, Dr. Hanaway helped develop the collaboration between IFM and the Cleveland Clinic, where he was the founding medical director. He later became the research director and now serves as a research collaborator at the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. His research interests focus on evaluating outcomes of Functional Medicine models of care.

In 2018, Dr. Hanaway was diagnosed with stage IV laryngeal cancer. His life has been transformed through an integrative therapeutic approach, including nutrition, acupuncture, herbs, prayer, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, community support, and spending time in nature. Recent medical assessment demonstrates ‘no evidence of disease.’

The focus of Dr. Hanaway’s work is to leverage his skillset to transform medical practice through education, research, and clinical care. In addition, Dr. Hanaway has been initiated as a Mara’akame [indigenous healer] by the Huichol people of the Sierra Madres in Mexico. He holds community fires, leads ceremonies, and offers traditional healing sessions.

Thank you for joining us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

When I attended medical school in the early ’80s, I became fascinated by the opportunity to work with nutrition and prevention to bend the healthcare cost curve.

I realized that the “rubber hits the road” in primary care and family medicine. As a family doctor, I learned by listening, doing and teaching. I took every opportunity possible to experience something new, from healing work with IIsleta and Jemez people in northern New Mexico to working with the Yup’ik (Eskimo) people on the Bering Sea. Over the past 20 years, I’ve studied with indigenous elders and was initiated as a traditional healer by the Huichol people in the Sierra Madres of Mexico in 2009. My work as a healer informs everything I do.

Through all of this, I realized there was something missing in the way conventional medicine approaches healthcare — the heart of medicine and the tools to reverse disease. My wife and I started a practice with a new vision, but in an old paradigm, called ‘Family to Family: Your Home for Whole Health Care’. I dove in a study to understand the concept of Functional Medicine, what it was and how it could be applied. I quickly recognized that this approach was really helping people. Through this process, I became a teacher and eventually a leader in Functional Medicine.

Through my work as the Chief Medical Officer at Genova Diagnostics I had the opportunity to learn and teach. This learning deepened as the Director of Medical Education for the Institute for Functional Medicine (IFM), and then eventually the first Medical Director at the Center for Functional Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.

Through these opportunities, I have been able to listen to patients using a systems-based clinical approach providing clinical care, education and research. This was the research I dreamed of in medical school, 35 years earlier. IFM has published research that says if physicians take time using the Functional Medicine model, their patient outcomes are better. We’re finalizing research to evaluate cost savings, as well.

Currently at IFM, we’re providing resources to practitioners and patients to help prevent and treat COVID-19, which have been well-received.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The first book that comes to mind is my very tattered copy of The Stress of Life by Hans Selye, who coined the term “stress” back in 1936. A curious scientist, explorer and doctor, Hans was trying to understand how mice in different conditions — excess heat or excess cold, isolation or overcrowding, starvation or overfeeding — experienced similar outcomes. This idea of dis-stress as a ‘root cause’ became a lens through which I look at life. As I work to decrease my reaction to the ‘stress of life’, I continue to learn how to be a better doctor, healer, husband, father and friend.

Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective, how do readers see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”?

There’s the coronavirus and then there’s the virus of fear. The social impact of what’s occurring may have a bigger overall impact than the physical virus. We are all vulnerable right now. While it’s scary and uncertain, the virus offers us an opportunity to move through the world in a different way. By taking the time to PAUSE, we can re-awaken to what is important. We acknowledge these emotions as a manifestation of our minds and use this time to slow down — so that we are not moving at a pace that is out of control.

We can all work to deal with our stressors, which will help us strengthen our immune systems. The behavioral changes that we need to make to stay healthy during this time — diet, exercise, sleep, human interactions — are the foundation for a healthy life, regardless of COVID-19. Functional Medicine is built upon these principles.

Life continues to change . . . that is a constant, as is uncertainty. So, let’s recognize the fear and move to a place of courage. That’s how I see the “light at the end of the tunnel”.

What are your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis.” If you can, please share a story or example for each.

Functional Medicine focuses on the varied functions of the body, but at the center of this model is the person — as manifested through their mental, emotional and spiritual expression. By focusing on these three components, we have tremendous power to improve our health. I’m hopeful that this pandemic offers an opportunity for people to slow down and think more deeply about addressing the internal factors that can spark a change and motivate a person to have the courage to move toward health and healing.

We can be of service to our family, our community and our common purpose. It’s one of the beautiful things happening right now, as there is less of a focus on individual belief systems and more of a focus on those in need. So, how do we help? Simple examples of this include the singing in the Square of Asissi, spontaneous musical celebration of healthcare workers in Brooklyn, and the ‘Invisible Hands’ volunteers in NYC providing grocery shopping for the elderly and handicapped. That is hopeful for me — focusing on helping our families and communities.

I don’t like the term ‘social distancing’ because I don’t find it to be a true representation of what is happening. “Physical distancing” is more reflective of what we are doing now, as we remain connected socially. I’ve spent more time talking to my brother and sisters in the past month than over the past 30 years. It’s a great phenomenon. In the face of fear, people are finding courage to do new activities and engage in life in a different way. My hope is that physicians find the courage to be able to practice the kind of medicine that they want to practice, to be able to help people in the way in which they want in the future.

Underneath all of this, there’s an appreciation for the sacredness of life. When I go for a walk, nature doesn’t seem to mind what’s happening; it appears to be thriving. I hear more birds. The clouds look different. I’m hopeful about each of these things.

From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

Loneliness and isolation are the largest risk factor for ‘all-cause-mortality’. Now that people are feeling more isolated than ever, we need to find ways for people to re-connect. As practitioners, we can create virtual group classes, get people engaged and find new ways to encourage interaction.

We have a Zoom Monday night dinner that includes roughly 20 people across five different states — it provides an opportunity to connect with what’s going on in the lives of our family, to play games and to slow down.

I encourage people to spend more time outside in nature. Connect to yourself, whether it’s meditation, yoga, prayer or knitting. Do something to quiet your mind and allow a chance for reflection/ introspection. It’s also important to find time to connect with the community around you. These are the important to ground us and strengthen us, as we connect to our own selves, to each other, and to the natural world.

What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?

There are many tools out there to help people dealing with anxiety, whether it’s the Calm meditation app, using a heart rate variability biofeedback device, or a simple conversation with another person. Find the zone that helps you to calm down and don’t forget that it’s okay to ask for help — that takes courage, but it’s necessary in order to get the support to manage health and wellness.

IFM is also providing patient education materials and resources for practitioners, many of which are available through IFM’s COVID-19 website. There is research behind these Functional Medicine methods that are supported within the scientific literature and include simple practical tools that people can use during this time.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

This quote has especially resonated with me over the last year: “We all have two lives to live, and the second one begins when you realize you only have one.”

A year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with stage IV laryngeal cancer. Through that, I realized what is important and I learned that I had to ask for help. I’ve really changed my condition through an integrative therapeutic approach, including nutrition, acupuncture, chemotherapy, and spending time in nature. Recent tests indicate I have no evidence of disease.

My biggest takeaway is that people — especially practitioners –can’t care for others unless they are first caring for themselves. Sometimes you must ask for help, and that is okay. When you do that, the opportunity to help others grows exponentially.

Cancer also brought me face-to-face with uncertainty . . . and paradoxically a sense of aliveness! Here we are again with COVID-19 in this time of great uncertainty. The tools of embracing this change, opening our hearts, caring for ourselves and others, while courageously engaging the world are particularly needed at this time.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

For me that movement is about the transformation of healthcare, and we’re living it right now. I’m not talking about medicine, I’m talking about true whole healthcare, of which medicine is one aspect.

There is a particular example from history that comes to mind. Tibetan medicine in the seventh century said let’s gather all the medicines that are in the world, so we can understand how they inter-relate and can work together, creating a new Tibetan medicine. They held a large conference in which they brought scholars together from all over the world…from India, China, Persia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, West Africa and so on. The ‘conference’ lasted more than 50 years, because the participants actually took the time to learn and grow together from one another.

We have a similar opportunity right now. . . and the SARS-CoV-2 virus is making it imperative. This virus can teach us to learn from different forms of medicine across the globe to treat the entire individual in order to obtain whole health. We should be asking questions. What are the traditional Chinese medicine herbs that are being successfully used in Wuhan right now? What is the benefit of yoga as a tool? How do we look at gene-environment interactions and be able to determine who is truly at risk? What can we learn from the people who live where there are fewer cars now have improvements in their health status?

So the movement is to truly listen to what’s happening in the world around us. Do we observe this ‘pause button’ that’s never happened before, and say, “Here are the elements to help move from illness to wellness — to change our habits, to decrease our exposome (i.e. toxic exposures) and learn to be able to connect with ourselves, each other, and the natural world?”

Functional Medicine is a framework within, which all of these elements fit together. Functional Medicine addresses the root causes of disease, which vary between individuals depending on their unique genetic, biochemical, environmental, and lifestyle factors. This approach focuses on restoring health and promoting optimal wellness, through a systems-based approach that empowers patients and practitioners to work together. In Functional Medicine we listen to the patient’s story and consider the “medicines” of the world to create a personalized treatment plan that goes beyond symptoms and diseases to support the whole person.

This is an opportunity to live and move within the interconnected nature of life — a place in which we each have something valuable to offer. Let us move from our hearts to be of service, by caring for ourselves and each other.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

To learn more about me and my practice, visit:

If you’re interested in learning more about IFM and our COVID-19 Task Force and resources, feel free to follow and visit: