Quality & Science

ASAM’s Membership Council Chair Seeks to Help Physicians Find Their Breakthrough with ASAM

by | October 1, 2021

Following a period of burnout early in her career as a surgeon in Arizona, Teresa Jackson, MD, FASAM, needed a breakthrough. 

She had lost interest in her work to the point that she questioned whether she could even continue her career in healthcare. 

“I didn’t even want to be a doctor,” Dr. Jackson said. “I was done.”

In the midst of the stress and uncertainty, she developed a substance use disorder. She entered treatment and began recovery. Then came the breakthrough.

Early in her recovery, a mentor suggested Dr. Jackson consider a career in the field of addiction medicine. Dr. Jackson explored the field and, gradually, started working again. Her first job was at an inpatient detox center on weekends.

During the next several years, she worked in medication assisted withdrawal management programs, residential treatment programs, outpatient Medication Assisted Treatment (MAT) clinics and an outpatient methadone clinic. 

Along the way, another breakthrough happened. Another mentor of Dr. Jackson’s suggested she become involved in ASAM and become board certified in Addiction Medicine.

“He gently pushed me to do those things and it was the best advice I could have received because it opened doors for me,” Dr. Jackson said.

With the support of ASAM colleagues and its educational resources, Dr. Jackson became board certified and continued progressing in the field. She has since continued her education in the field through in-person meetings and online. 

Today, Dr. Jackson serves as the Region 8 Director on ASAM’s Board. Recently, she became Chair of ASAM’s Membership Council. 

As she works to grow and diversify the Society’s membership, her goal is to help other physicians needing a breakthrough of their own to experience it through ASAM, and/or switch to addiction medicine themselves.

“I really believe that's where the new energy is going to lie for ASAM; to seek out the young family practice or internal medicine doctors, or psychiatrists who have an interest in addiction medicine,” said Dr. Jackson, now Medical Director of Lakeside-Milam Recovery Centers in Kirkland, Washington. “We need to get them involved early on to create a new wave of leaders at ASAM.”

Dr. Jackson added that the stigma associated with patients with SUDs could be changed through a more diversified membership that includes everyone from family physicians to hospitalists. 

“I believe that the field of addiction medicine comes more in the forefront, with our young doctors who are doing fellowships now, some of that stigma within our own population as medical providers will improve,” she added. “I hope to see this improvement during the next five to 10 years.”

Another way to fight the stigma associated with addiction medicine is to continue the work of normalizing addiction treatment among primary care providers, Dr. Jackson said.

“I would love to see us seek out the family practice doctors, who are the day-to-day providers for the majority of people and communities and help them also treat addiction medicine at that level with patients,” she said. “I think that's a big theme.”

The most rewarding part of working in the field of addiction medicine, Dr. Jackson said, is seeing the small, day-to-day successes her patients have and getting to celebrate those with them. This could be a new mom who has been stabilized on buprenorphine or a young man who gets his first job in recovery.

“Those changes make my day,” she said. “They seem small, but it's a great success for the patient. It's funny how something small like that can make me feel like I have a success or a win too.”

Looking back at her early career as a surgeon, Dr. Jackson said she’s grateful for those who encouraged her to take a different path with addiction medicine. Through the Membership Council, she hopes to connect physicians from various backgrounds to the field of addiction medicine and to ASAM. She’s confident that like her, they’ll find a new level of personal and professional satisfaction as they treat patients with SUDs.

“Now I feel so authentic in my job; I’m happy,” Dr. Jackson said. “I feel like I really do help people.”