More Young Doctors Seek Addiction Medicine Training

More Young Doctors Seek Addiction Medicine Training

Dr. Hillary Tamar is typical of a growing number of enthusiastic young physicians who have become seriously attracted to addiction medicine as a specialty, according to NPR's popular show All Things Considered. The 28-year-old doctor recently told NPR that addiction medicine wasn't in her plans when she entered med school in Chicago several years ago, but things have changed.

"As a medical student, honestly, you do your ER rotation, people label a patient as 'pain-seeking' and it's bad," Tamar said. "And that's all you do about it."

Then, in her fourth year of residency, something unexpected happened that has altered the course of the young doctor's life. She was randomly assigned to complete a "rotation" at a rehab facility in southern Arizona, and it opened a new outlook on her career.

"I was able to connect with people in a way that I haven't been able to connect with them in another specialty," Tamar told NPR. It not only transformed her understanding of addiction, it showed her "the potential for doctors to change lives," she said.
"[Patients] can go from spending all their time pursuing the acquisition of a substance to being brothers, sisters, daughters and fathers making breakfast for their kids again," she said. "It's really powerful."

Tamar is currently in the second year of a family medicine residency in a Phoenix hospital. But she said a fellowship in addiction medicine is definitely on the table when she completes the residency.

Addiction medicine is like primary care, she said, "a way to build lasting relationships with patients - and a way to focus on more than a single diagnosis. I love when I see addiction patients on my schedule, even if they're pregnant and on meth," she added. "More room to do good - it's exciting."

More than 60 certification programs

New board certification programs for doctors in addiction medicine have been springing up across the country, says the NPR report, in fact more than 60 of them since 2015.

Most programs are being sanctioned by the American Board of Medical Specialties (ABMS), the so-called "gold standard" in U.S. certification.

Certification programs offer one or two years of post-grad training in addiction medicine, offered in clinics and hospitals across the country. The Board began recognizing addiction medicine as a bona fide subspecialty four or five years ago, which has really opened up opportunities for physicians to train from other medical fields.

Before 2015, addiction medicine was pretty much in the purview of psychiatry. At least partly because of this, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME ), which also accredits specialties, didn't begin accrediting addiction medicine for new physicians until just last year. The ACGME's first batch of addiction medicine fellowship accreditation programs have also begun to come on line, adding to those already from the ABMS.

Such programs are drawing a new talented generation of idealistic doctors - idealists like Dr. Hillary Tamar, NPR said.

But more are needed

Dr. Anna Lembke is the medical director of addiction medicine at Stanford University School of Medicine. She has been a researcher in the field of addiction for many years, and says she welcomes the new awareness of need for more addiction physicians and researchers.

"Even 10 years ago I couldn't find a medical student or resident interested in learning about addiction medicine if I looked under a rock," she told NPR. "They were just not out there."

Lembke credits the changing times to an upcoming generation of doctors who are drawn to the field because they "care about social justice."

One of these, first year University of Arizona College of Medicine student Michelle Peterson, said she "feels the calling." Peterson said her interest came way up after working for a while at an addiction outpatient treatment center. She's already learning about addiction in her first year of medical school from doctors visiting from the field. She adds that other classmates are also getting interested.

"It's definitely not just me," Peterson said. "There are quite a few people here really interested in addiction."

Knocking on the doors

Back to the veteran addiction doctor and researcher, Stanford's Anna Lembke.

"I now have medical students and residents knocking on my door, emailing me. They all want to learn more about addiction," Lembke said. But more are needed, she added.
"We have got an enormous gap between the need and the doctors available to provide that treatment," Lembke told NPR. "At least the medical community has begun to wake up to consider not only their role in triggering this opioid epidemic but also the ways they need to step up to solve the problem."

How this will all play out in the overall addiction treatment universe is unknown. These new developments suggest new hope for thousands more addiction patients who currently have trouble getting help. But it also suggests there may be a few issues to address among the different approaches to addiction treatment and rehab that already exist.

It will be a good thing as long as restoring people to lives free from a reliance on drugs remains the goal of our new legion of young addiction treatment physicians.

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