october 18, 2022
By Ruchi Fitzgerald, MD
Family physician and addiction medicine specialist
While practicing family medicine for many years, I saw how substance use disorders affected many of my patients and their families. To provide them with the best comprehensive care possible, I pursued the addiction medicine fellowship at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.
It was one of the best career decisions I’ve ever made. Now, during National Addiction Treatment Week, I encourage other family physicians to learn about the critical role we can take in treating patients with SUDs.
The addiction medicine training I began in 2019, amid the opioid crisis, gave me the skills to address the issue in my primary care practice. It was also an opportunity to draw on my own personal experience as a physician in long-term recovery, especially to advocate for clinician health and for abolishing stigma around addiction.
Blending Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine
My career as a family physician, already rewarding, has become even more incredibly exciting since I completed the fellowship in 2020. Addiction is a disease that affects so many of the patients we see in the primary care setting, and being certified in addiction medicine impacts my career every day.
I’m energized when I go to work, knowing that I can care for patients who have not traditionally been offered addiction treatment. I also enjoy working on health policy issues and educating the next generation of clinicians about addiction medicine and evidence-based treatment.
Often, it takes just one or two patient interactions to change a primary care physician’s perspective about why they should treat addiction and push them to learn more.
Treating SUDs gives me an opportunity to collaborate with an incredibly dedicated team on offering compassionate care to people who may be used to being judged for their struggles with this disease.
My patients have often been treated poorly in the health care system. When they finally receive compassionate, evidence-based treatment, they can develop trust in a clinician and in the health care system, often for the first time. By developing trust, they become more open to trying medication for addiction treatment and receiving education about that medication.
Frequently, this leads to the powerful experience of seeing patients recover rewarding lives through holistic treatment that improves their overall health as well as their home life.