Shaping ASAM's Education Program: Dr. Fingerhood Shares His Experience
Michael Fingerhood, MD, FACP, DFASAM, still remembers admitting patients with fevers and complications of injection drug use decades ago as a medical student, without being able to address their addiction.
“Well, that’s not a medical problem,” his attending physician at the time told him in the mid-1980s. “We can’t do anything about that.”
Since then, Dr. Fingerhood has worked to educate others, both in and out of the field about addiction medicine, to prove such thinking untrue. His goal is to help everyone better understand that addiction is a medical issue and how it can be treated.
“Addiction, when viewed correctly in a medical context, is treatable and treatment is effective,” he said.
Shaping Conference Academics
Dr. Fingerhoood earned his medical degree from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in 1986. He completed internal medicine training and a chief resident year at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center. Today, he is a professor of Medicine and Public Health at Johns Hopkins University, and chief of the Division of Addiction Medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center.
In 2010, Dr. Fingerhood joined ASAM’s Annual Conference Program Planning Committee and served as the committee chair from 2014 to 2020. At the start of his chairmanship, roughly 700 people attended the conference, which, at the time, did not have an academic focus.
In 2019, just before the coronavirus pandemic, 2,400 people attended the conference, which included more than 60 rigorous scientific presentations and skills-based workshops from leading experts in the field.
“I tried to transform the conference into what I felt a meeting of the specialty of addiction medicine should be,” he said.
Member volunteer opportunities that support ASAM education programs provide meaningful ways for ASAM members to shape addiction medicine training for the medical community. Dr. Fingerhood’s understanding of how to incorporate evidence-based learning, especially as it is evolving, has been particularly impactful. He provides effective guidance on how to include the latest research in programs so that participants will retain and apply the information and new data in practice. He has also been instrumental in ensuring that ASAM brings in new, first-time presenters, who are more representative of the entire ASAM membership, to programs.
State of the Art Education
Dr. Fingerhood now serves on the ASAM Board of Directors as ex-officio chair of the Medical Education Council, which reviews each education course and considers the potential learning styles of its attendees.
“We judge how we're doing in terms of education at all levels,” he said. “We’ve really expanded our efforts in trying to get medical students, residents, and fellows to attend our conferences as well.”
Recently, Dr. Fingerhood became chair of the committee that plans the ASAM State of the Art Course, an 11-session course that provides quick, focused updates on advanced-level research. In creating the course, Dr. Fingerhood considered how people learn and retain knowledge.
“As I've gotten older, I realize that I digest and learn best in small doses,” he said. “For instance, the State of the Art included 40 or so 20-minute talks. I can digest 20 minutes of anything, including basic science. But if it goes beyond that for a topic like basic science, it'll lose me. I think if you challenge presenters with a 20-minute limit, they have to quickly give a message that is useful for as many people as possible.”
The quality of ASAM’s education offerings has improved over time, Dr. Fingerhood said. There is truly something for everyone, whether they’re a medical student, a resident, or a fellow.
“I think ASAM education offerings have also become more diverse,” he said. “Not everybody learns in the same way. Some people like podcasts, some people like to read, some people like hands-on learning, and some people like workshops. We’re trying to offer a full variety of learning opportunities.”
An early prescriber of buprenorphine, Dr. Fingerhood was one of the first teachers of ASAM’s buprenorphine course, which started in the early 2000s. He also co-authored the ASAM Handbook of Addiction Medicine, now in its second edition. Dr. Fingerhood is also part of a workgroup charged with rewriting the current edition of The ASAM Criteria.
All for the Patient
As much as he enjoys helping to improve ASAM’s educational offerings, Dr. Fingerhood still treasures his time with his patients. To him, the work is as fulfilling as it’s ever been.
“You’re doing more than only treating addiction,” he said. “You're treating the person as a whole person in order for them to succeed in their treatment of addiction. We save lives and it is amazing how grateful patients are as they work on recovery.”
Dr. Fingerhood cherishes the relationships he’s built with patients throughout the years and the gratitude they extend to him. He never tires of seeing patients overcome their addiction.
“I get to know patients as people and they get to know me as well,” he said. “Those relationships are the most important part of my career.”
If ASAM members are interested in becoming involved in ASAM’s education programs, Molly Mazuk, director of professional development for ASAM, encourages them to volunteer as a course presenter or committee member.