ACAAM Fellowship Program Member Feature: University of Minnesota Addiction Medicine

ACAAM recently had the pleasure of interviewing Sheila Specker, MD, one of the longest-tenured addiction medicine program directors in the country.

Dr. Specker is an associate professor at the University of Minnesota where she practices as an addiction psychiatrist in the Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences. She is also the director of the University of Minnesota’s Addiction Medicine Fellowship, which trains physicians of all specialties in addiction and co-occurring psychiatric disorders. Dr. Specker chaired the committee that wrote the program requirements in 2016–2017 that were ultimately adopted by ACGME.

ACAAM: What year was your program established?

Sheila Specker: 1982, beginning with one addiction fellow, one faculty, and one social worker. I was one of the earlier fellows in our program.

ACAAM: What was the addiction medicine landscape like in your area at the time that your program was established?

Sheila Specker: There were a few well established residential programs (“the Minnesota Model”), but there was not recognition that there were other settings/levels of care of providing treatment. The fellowship was unique in that it was founded on the principal that co-occurring conditions (psychiatric and substance use) need to be treated concomitantly and the program utilized IOP for this treatment.

ACAAM: Was there someone who played an especially critical role in founding your program, and can you name and describe them?

Sheila Specker: Dr. Joseph Westermeyer, university faculty, addiction psychiatrist, anthropologist, researcher on opioid use in Hmong in SE Asia, was unequivocally the most influential faculty in developing and guiding the program through its formative years. He had the foresight to develop alternative models to residential (IOP, co-occurring), began the addiction consultation service in the hospital, and started a unique methadone program to serve the Hmong patients who had opioid use disorder (opium).

ACAAM: Any other information you’d like to share about your program’s origin story?

Sheila Specker: Our program always trained both psychiatrists and those of other specialties. When accreditation was available for addiction psychiatry, we formally developed that program and continued the addiction medicine for all other specialties. The reality is that the training is nearly identical!

ACAAM: What are you most proud of your fellowship program for having accomplished?

Sheila Specker: The quality of the fellows! They enter with a great passion for the field and are highly motivated— they rapidly absorb knowledge and then educate me! We have also succeeded in procuring ongoing funding from each of the sites. Each year we have struggled with funding, adding to the stress of running a fellowship.

ACAAM: What do your program faculty and fellows enjoy most about the city or area that your program is located?

Sheila Specker: Perhaps the 20 or so lakes in and around St. Paul-Minneapolis.

ACAAM: Anything you’d like to highlight about your program, faculty, fellows, or graduates?

Sheila Specker: Our fellows enter the workforce in quite diverse areas: some work as academic faculty in our institutions and proceed to train subsequent fellows; others return to primary care settings to provide addiction care and aid their colleagues in doing so; others locate in underserved areas, serving Native American populations.

Thank you to Dr. Specker for sharing this information about her experience and insights. If you would like to see your fellowship program featured, please contact ACAAM Headquarters at [email protected].

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