Medical Schools Focus On Addiction Medicine Training In Light Of Opioid Crisis

By Beth Leipholtz 06/05/18

Medical students are seeking out addiction medicine training and schools are making adjustments to fulfill their needs. 

students listening to a professor in a lab coat

The opioid crisis is changing the way some medical schools are approaching training, according to the San Francisco Chronicle

At the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) School of Medicine, this is being done by implementing a yearlong fellowship in addiction medicine, the Chronicle reports. 

The fellowship program is funded by the city and county of San Francisco and works to incorporate addiction medicine into overall medical training, rather than just psychiatric medicine. 

Dr. Hannah Snyder is one of the fellowship participants and is expected to complete the program this month. 

“I started learning about treating addiction and realizing we had highly effective medications to treat addiction,” Snyder told the Chronicle. “I got really excited about that because there’s a way to prevent people from having those complications in the first place.”

According to the Chronicle, Snyder works at Ward 93 as part of the fellowship. Ward 93 is a methadone clinic at San Francisco General Hospital. There, she meets with patients to discuss treatment. 

Snyder is also assisting other U.S. hospitals with new protocols for treating those with opioid use disorders. The Chronicle states that this “primarily means getting patients started on buprenorphine or methadone—two long-term prescription medications for opioid-use disorder—when they come to the hospital after overdosing or having severe withdrawal symptoms.” 

The fellowship at UCSF School of Medicine isn’t the only one of its kind. In fact, since 2011, 52 U.S. addiction medicine fellowships have been accredited by the Addiction Medicine Foundation

Fellowships are typically completed by doctors who have already finished their three- to six-year residency in a specific area and wish to take part in more training in a subspecialty, the Chronicle notes. It wasn’t until 2016 that addiction medicine was recognized as a subspecialty. 

Dr. Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist at Stanford School of Medicine, is working to add addiction medicine courses to Stanford’s curriculum. 

“It’s the dawning awareness within the medical community that addiction in general is a growing problem in our patient population,” she told the Chronicle. “The opioid epidemic has put it front and center in a way that gives people permission to focus on it. Suddenly there are research dollars available to study it, and federal grants. It has momentum it never had before.”

At Stanford specifically, students are the ones pushing for additional education in the area. The Chronicle states that Alexander Ball, a fifth-year medical student, partnered with Lembke to create lectures centered around pain and addiction for first and second-year students. Some were incorporated into courses this year, and more will be next year, the Chronicle notes. 

The lectures concentrate on opioid prescribing, administering buprenorphine and other medications and motivational interviewing, which is a counseling technique. 

At UCSF, buprenorphine training has been offered as optional for residents and faculty since 2011, the Chronicle reports. Buprenorphine is used to treat opioid dependence and is a Schedule III narcotic, meaning doctors have to complete eight hours of training and get a waiver in order to prescribe it. 

According to Dr. Scott Steiger, associate professor of medicine and psychiatry at UCSF, the buprenorphine training is drawing more and more medical professionals. 

“Last year, we had to turn people away because we had reached our capacity for the room, which was 77,” Steiger told the Chronicle. “The next one (this spring), we had it in an auditorium to fit all the people. It’s telling that people are trying to get as much training as they can.”

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Beth is a Minnesota girl who got sober at age 20. By day she is a website designer, and in her spare time she enjoys writing about recovery at, doing graphic design and spending time with her boyfriend and three dogs. Find Beth on LinkedInInstagram and Twitter.