For Residents

Career Choices: Addiction psychiatry

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Editor’s note: Career Choices features a psychiatry resident/fellow interviewing a psychiatrist about why he or she has chosen a specific career path. The goal is to inform trainees about the various psychiatric career options, and to give them a feel for the pros and cons of the various paths.

In this Career Choices, Saeed Ahmed, MD, talked with Cornel Stanciu, MD. Dr. Stanciu is an addiction psychiatrist at Dartmouth’s Geisel School of Medicine, where he is an Assistant Professor, and serves as the Director of Addiction Services at New Hampshire Hospital. He provides support to clinicians managing patients with addictive disorders in a multitude of settings, and also assists with policy making and delivery of addiction care at the state level. He is also the author of Deciphering the Addicted Brain, a guide to help families and the general public better understand addictive disorders.

Dr. Ahmed: What attracted you to pursue subspecialty training in addictive disorders?

Dr. Stanciu: In the early stages of my training, I frequently encountered individuals with medical and mental health disorders whose treatment was impacted by underlying substance use. I soon came to realize any attempts at (for example) managing hypertension in someone with cocaine use disorder, or managing schizophrenia in someone with ongoing cannabis use, were futile. Almost all of my patients receiving treatment for mental health disorders were dependent on tobacco or other substances, and most were interested in cessation. Through mentorship from addiction-trained residency faculty members, I was able to get a taste of the neurobiologic complexities of the disease, something that left me with a desire to develop a deeper understanding of the disease process. Witnessing strikingly positive outcomes with implementation of evidence-based treatment modalities further solidified my path to subspecialty training. Even during that early phase, because I expressed interest in managing these conditions, I was immediately put in a position to share and disseminate any newly acquired knowledge to other specialties as well as the public.

Dr. Ahmed: Could one manage addictive disorders with just general psychiatry training, and what are the differences between the different paths to certification that a resident could undertake?

Dr. Stanciu: Addictive disorders fall under the general umbrella of psychiatric care. Most individuals with these disorders exhibit some degree of mental illness. Medical school curriculum offers on average 2 hours of addiction-related didactics during 4 years. General psychiatry training programs vary significantly in the type of exposure to addiction—some residencies have an affiliated addiction fellowship, others have addiction-trained psychiatrists on staff, but most have none. Ultimately, there is great variability in the degree of comfort in working with individuals with addictive disorders post-residency. Being able to prescribe medications for the treatment of addictive disorders is very different from being familiar with the latest evidence-based recommendations and guidelines; the latter is unlikely to be gleaned simply though residency training. There are 2 routes to specialization after residency: addiction psychiatry, and addiction medicine. The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) recognized addiction psychiatry as a subspecialty in 1993. Since 1998, completion of a fellowship recognized through the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has been required for board certification. There are almost 50 programs nationwide with approximately 150 spots. There is no match process for admissions; acceptance is based on a review of application documents and a personal interview. Upon completion of this 1 year of training, candidates sit for the certification exam, which is offered every other year.

Addiction medicine is a fairly new route initially intended to allow non-psychiatric specialties access to addictive disorders training and certification. This is offered through the American Board of Preventive Medicine. There are currently 2 routes to sitting for the exam: through completion of a 1-year addiction medicine fellowship, or through the “practice pathway” still available until 2020. To be eligible for the latter, individuals must provide documentation of clinical experience post-residency, which is quantified as number of hours spent treating patients with addictions, plus any additional courses or training, and must be endorsed by a certified addictionologist.

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