More than 100 students and faculty attended the workshop planned by PCOM Georgia medical student Akila Raja (DO '21).
A mother who lost her son to addiction delivered a plea to student doctors recently. “One thing I really ask is that every patient you see; look at them as an individual. I know you have a lot of patients. You guys are incredibly smart, but it all comes down to that relationship with your patient and if you understand what they’re going through.”
This remark took place during a panel discussion, entitled “The Road to Recovery: Substance Dependence Awareness and Advocacy,” held at PCOM Georgia in Suwanee for more than 100 medical students and faculty members. Akila Raja (DO ’21), a PCOM Georgia student and recipient of the Albert D’Alonzo, DO, Endowed Memorial Award Fund which helped cover the cost of the program, along with the Office of Student Affairs, presented the discussion. Raja said she wishes to raise awareness within the medical community “as we will be intimately working with this population in the future.”
Panelists included Brian Mitchell, DMD, a practicing dentist; Patrice Alexander, the clinical director at Metro Atlanta Recovery Residences (MARR); Jim Seckman, the CEO at MARR; Margaret Sisson, the founder of Riley’s Wish Foundation; and Emily Eisenhart, the director of the Center for Addiction Recovery at Georgia Southern University in Statesboro, Georgia.
Sisson ended her plea to the students - “Really understand that person and that family and have that relationship because we didn’t get that with Riley. Nobody ever asked him about whether he abused substances.”
Alexander pointed out that addiction affects the entire family. “The family system becomes very chaotic and unpredictable,” she said. “As a result, family members start to develop their own symptoms. It’s not just the addict showing up in your offices trying to manipulate you to prescribe medicine. Family members show up with real symptoms like not being able to sleep.”
Raja planned the two-hour workshop due to her interest in addiction which stems from her time as a master’s student at Boston University School of Medicine. While there, she completed her thesis research under the guidance of Richard Saitz, MD, an internist and addiction medicine specialist. She investigated the relationship between food insecurity and alcohol use in people with HIV infection and substance use disorder. In addition, in the summer of 2018, she participated in the Summer Immersion for Medical Students program at the Betty Ford Center in Rancho Mirage, California, and was inspired to bring a similar experience to PCOM Georgia.
Prior to the session, Raja sent students and faculty members an informal questionnaire to gather information about the pervasiveness of the addiction issue in the PCOM Georgia community. Questions were on topics ranging from the family history of addiction to concerns about personal use. Some of the notable findings from the 65 responses were: 47 percent of the respondents had a history of addiction in their family; 40 percent of the respondents knew someone who illicitly uses opiates; 38 percent of those responding knew someone who survived an overdose; 34 percent of the respondents knew someone who had died from an overdose; and 14 percent of those responding were concerned about their own use. However only 60 percent of the respondents were aware of resources available in the community, leaving 40 percent unaware. Raja said, “As healthcare providers, it is imperative that we are aware of these resources and address this problem as effectively as possible.”
The panel discussion event “will ultimately produce more competent, confident and considerate healthcare providers,” Raja said. “I hope that we created a safe place to discuss substance dependence and enlighten our campus’ students, faculty and staff,” she said.
Addressing prescribing medications, panelist Dr. Mitchell encouraged the students. “When you say no to someone you have to deal with it. You’re really having to say no because you care about them. You have to deal with people not being happy with what you’re doing.”
In addition to the Office of Student Affairs and the D’Alonzo Fund, the event was co-sponsored by the Student Government Association Interdisciplinary Committee, the American Medical Women’s Association, the Student American Academy of Osteopathy, the Student Association of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, the Neuropsych Club, Sigma Sigma Phi, and the Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medical Interest Group.
The Albert D’Alonzo, DO Endowed Memorial Award Fund is named in honor of the late Albert D’Alonzo, DO ’56, a long-time professor at PCOM. The award supports a range of student academic activities through individual grants awarded to students and student organizations.
Established in 2005, PCOM Georgia is a private, not-for-profit, accredited institute of higher education dedicated to the healthcare professions. The Suwanee, Georgia, campus is affiliated with Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine which has a storied history as a premier osteopathic medical school. PCOM Georgia offers doctoral degrees in osteopathic medicine, pharmacy, and physical therapy and graduate degrees in biomedical sciences and physician assistant studies. Emphasizing "a whole person approach to care," PCOM Georgia focuses on educational excellence, interprofessional education and service to the wider community. The campus is also home to the Georgia Osteopathic Care Center, an osteopathic manipulative medicine clinic, which is open to the public by appointment. For more information, visit pcom.edu or call 678-225-7500.
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