Dr. Julie Hong’s Story
Where it began
"Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom” - Aristotle
I was born in Edmonton to extremely hard working immigrant parents. I was raised in Edmonton and Seattle.
I chose medicine as a career path in order to care for my family and to do meaningful work. I attended Queen’s University for medicine and residency and it is also where I met my husband. We worked in Kingston after graduating from medical school and completing residency, followed by a brief year in San Francisco so he could complete his fellowship in Urologic Cancer.
I had two sons while we lived in Kingston, and after having them, my symptoms appeared. I was extremely exhausted, had poor sleep, and I felt my ability to concentrate or maintain a good mood took an extensive amount of effort. However, I ignored these problems as I was often told this was “normal” for a mother and physician. Since I was surviving and functioning as a busy mom, wife, and doctor, I felt that I couldn’t complain since I didn’t have a “diagnosis”. Deep down in my gut, though, I knew I was operating with terrible inefficiency and that I was far from being at my best or in optimal health. I ended most days feeling depleted and I often felt that I didn’t have the energy to show up adequately in my work or for my family.
A Time of Transition
We had the incredible fortune of moving from a place that we loved, to another place that welcomed us with open arms, when we moved to Calgary in 2009.
On the outside, I am someone that appears very strong. I exercise each day and am able to work hard with a smile on my face. What I didn’t disclose to others was that I never felt rested, that everything I did was with me gritting my teeth, and I was fighting for everything I was doing. I was frequently exhausted from the effort of it all and eventually it started to show up in my work as burnout.
Physician burnout is something we rarely talk about, but it’s endemic and I believe is a reflection of what most people are feeling in their everyday lives. Doctors are going to work and using all of their effort and energy on their patients with very little care for themselves. They feel that if they can sacrifice themselves for work, or for their loved ones, that they will find value in what they are doing. In medical school, we are taught to ignore how tired we are, to disconnect from our bodies and to work to the point of exhaustion and beyond. In fact, I felt like I was considered weak if I didn’t work to this extreme.
But what does this mean if doctors themselves disconnect from their own selves in terms of body, mind and spirit? How are we supposed to be present, show up for patients, really see them and help them connect to themselves?
When I asked my colleagues about burnout and what they thought the cause was, I got the standard answers: there is not enough money, they felt they were not valued enough by colleagues or government, that there were too many expectations on us, that patients were getting sicker, that there was not enough time to spend with patients, and that work/life balance was a myth. However, I knew I had to find answers that really spoke to the depth of human experience, allowed me to take responsibility for my own energy production, and could empower me with choices rather than become a victim to outside forces with no hope of recovery or clear path for a more sustainable future.
A Turn to Functional Medicine
In my quest for a solution and answers, I discovered functional medicine. The first course I went to immediately spoke to me. Functional medicine is not “alternative medicine”, it is all-encompassing medicine. Functional Medicine takes the wide angle lens view and sees the whole picture of health. It offers understanding of why and how dysfunction is occurring. It no longer puts the patient and physician in a box. Functional Medicine requires that the doctor be fully present to see the patient, rather than label the patient with a diagnosis. Here I discovered that being fully present is practicing the art of medicine, which is seeing the connection and order in all the chaos; it is being supportive in a patient’s healing journey, however that presents.
The word doctor comes from Latin, whose original meaning was teacher. Functional medicine redefines a doctor’s job as being what it was originally intended for: to teach patients about the different options and choices that the patient can make in their healing journey.
My goal is to ensure that my patients are empowered with the understanding that we have the ability to make a healing choice in every single moment. All choices can be made with the best information we have at that moment. Poor health choices are generally due to to lack of information or false facts. If we want to make better choices we need better quality information and functional medicine offers this powerful solution. Functional Medicine seeks out the most authentic and comprehensive information about your health so that you can make the most informed choices. Health and healing outcomes are always based on the quality of the information used to make choices, and it is my job to ensure that my patients get the best information available.
Having this understanding changed the game for me in my career. I take accountability for ensuring that my patients can access the information they need to make informed choices. I am present for my patients to help educate them, I help them reconnect to their body/mind/spirit by exploring what their body is trying to tell them. I am there for them as they make their choices and help them define what healing and optimization means to them. Helping patients by getting them to learn about themselves and make their own decisions is now what I define as being a “doctor/teacher” in the true original sense of the word.
In order for me to do this, I have to be personally the most optimal and energetic I can be, which requires making more informed and conscious choices.
As I’ve gotten older, I’m amazed at how much my body can do if I give it the right building blocks. I’ve enjoyed the process of doing the deep dive into knowing my body down to the molecular level, my genes - the instructions; my nutrients - the building blocks; my microbiome - the incredible organisms that outnumber even my own cells and are a huge determinant of my functioning.
I am here for those who are ready to start making more conscious choices about their health, for those that seek to do the deep dive in their life, for those that are curious about what optimization of functioning can do for them, and for those that desire vitality in every aspect of their life!