Aspiring doctors seek advanced training in addiction medicine

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By Will Stone, KJZZ, NPR, Kaiser Health News

The U.S. Surgeon General’s office estimates that more than 20 million people have a substance use disorder. Meanwhile, the nation’s drug overdose crisis shows no sign of slowing.

Yet, by all accounts, there aren’t nearly enough physicians who specialize in treating addiction — doctors with extensive clinical training who are board-certified in addiction medicine.

The opioid epidemic has made this doctor deficit painfully apparent. And it’s spurring medical institutions around the country to create fellowships for aspiring doctors who want to treat substance use disorder with the same precision and science as other diseases.

Now numbering more than 60, these fellowship programs offer physicians a year or two of postgraduate training in clinics and hospitals where they learn evidence-based approaches for treating addiction.

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

Driven To Connect With Patients In Need

Tamar, now in the second year of a family medicine residency in Phoenix, wasn’t thinking about addiction medicine when she first started medical school in Chicago.

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

But in her fourth year of med school, she happened to be assigned to a rotation at a rehab facility in southern Arizona.

“I was able to connect with people in a way that I haven’t been able to connect with them in another specialty,” the 28-year-old recalled.

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