American Society of Addiciton Medicine
Jul 27, 2023 Reporting from Rockville, MD
Dr. Nicholaus Christian: Finding the Path
Jul 27, 2023
When the opioid crisis struck Dr. Christian’s hometown, it ignited a passion for treating addiction. ASAM helped him turn his passion into a career.

Dr. Nicholaus Christian: Finding the Path.Substring(0, maxlength)

American Society of Addictin Medicine


Dr. Nicholaus Christian: Finding the Path

When the opioid crisis struck Dr. Christian’s hometown, it ignited a passion for treating addiction. ASAM helped him turn his passion into a career. 

While Nicholaus “Nick” Christian, MD, MBA, attended Wright State University’s Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio, a decade ago, he started to hear personal stories of how the opioid crisis had reached his hometown. 

Sadly, several people from his small town near Dayton had died from opioid use disorder.  

“When I was in medical school, I heard some of my former high school classmates had experienced overdoses,” Dr. Christian said. “I felt like I knew these people as my friends and family. I saw early on in my medical education that these people are just as deserving as love and care as anyone else.” 

Making a Connection 

After hearing the news, Dr. Christian felt he had to respond to the local crisis.  

“I helped do some service work in my community around getting medical students and health trainees into projects that were trying to move the needle on overdoses,” he said. 

Eventually, he took his new-found passion for treating addiction with him to Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, where he completed his internal medicine residency training. Though unaware at the time that addiction medicine was a possible career path, Dr. Christian continued to do what he could to help those with addiction.  

In 2018, he helped start the “B-Team,” a national model for expanding access to buprenorphine for hospitalized patients with opioid use disorder.  

“That program is still in existence and it’s expanding to multiple hospitals throughout Texas,” Dr. Christian said. “I think they started more than a thousand people on buprenorphine last year. It's really grown.” 

While working on this project, someone suggested that Dr. Christian attend ASAM’s Annual Conference.  

Dr. Christian attended the 2020 conference virtually, seeking information on stimulant use disorder. There, he learned of evidence-based practices that could help his community curve its stimulant use.  

“That was the first time I had ever heard of anything like contingency management or other treatment strategies for stimulant use,” he said. “After that conference, I was inspired and started a community-based project that's still ongoing. We call it our Wellness Advisory Board, where we meet every month and brainstorm strategies to promote wellness in the community.” 

Around this time, Dr. Christian decided to adjust his career path to include more than just a focus on internal medicine.  

“I don't think I was exposed to the fact that addiction medicine was a pathway until someone told me about ASAM,” he said. “I always knew that I would probably be a general doctor who does some addiction treatment without specialized training, but I didn't know that the specialized training path was even an option.” 

During his residency, Dr. Christian lived as a “missional” resident at Community First! Village, a master-planned community that provides affordable, permanent housing, and a supportive community for people transitioning out of chronic homelessness. Through this work, he helped lead a community-based participatory research project to promote the needs of his neighbors who used substances or were in recovery. 

“I had been meeting with residents in the community because we noticed that during COVID, things started to escalate in terms of substance use, and a lot of people started dying, both from extensive alcohol use and from mental health concerns,” he said. 


Going Farther  

In 2021, Dr. Christian started his addiction medicine fellowship training through the Yale Program in Addiction Medicine, which he completed in 2022. 

He said he never would have done this training if it weren’t for the Wellness Advisory Board, which was inspired by ASAM. 

“ASAM’s conference gave me much more confidence in terms of being an official thought leader for my community and having access to knowledge and resources that could potentially help the community,” he said. “It was through that process of starting to be involved in this project that I learned about the Yale Program in Addiction Medicine.” 

Today, Dr. Christian is an internal medicine clinician-educator and current postdoctoral research fellow through the Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development program and provider for veterans experiencing homelessness at the Homeless Patient Aligned Care Team (H-PACT) clinic.  

His current clinical and research interests include improving care for people who use substances that are on the continuum of experiencing homelessness to being stably housed. 

Dr. Christian said the most fulfilling part of treating addiction is connecting people who need addiction care with healthcare services they didn’t know existed. As a postdoctoral research fellow, Dr. Christian does outreach in a community with few buprenorphine prescribers.  

“I go out on a mobile van with a peer specialist who knows the community well, and get to connect with patients on their turf,” he said. “It's such a different way of thinking about how we deliver addiction care. By meeting patients on their terms and viewing them as an entire person and not just a disease process, the trust that’s developed is incredibly rewarding.” 

During the last three years, Dr. Christian has become increasingly involved with ASAM. He has virtually attended ASAM’s Advocacy Day twice and currently serves on The ASAM Criteria Workgroup. In 2022, he received the NIDA Early Career Investigator Award and attended his first in-person Annual Conference.  

Dr. Christian said ASAM has helped him in numerous ways with the multiple projects he’s launched to help those struggling with addiction.  

“The first is by just being such a fount of information on best practices for treating different use disorders as well as having guidance on specific clinical situations I found very helpful,” he said. “Secondly, from a career perspective, it's helped me see people and individuals who are making a career out of doing what they love to do and treating these individuals while doing research in areas that really excite me, such as community-based participatory research. Attending the Annual Conference gave me hope that I can make a career out of the things in medicine and research that bring me a lot of joy.