When I came to this country, even before my current residency, I launched my addiction psychiatry career by researching nicotine addiction in schizophrenia patients. Those early experiences gave me a greater understanding of the health concerns and life experiences of people with addictions – and those more likely to develop them.
So imagine my excitement when I first became acquainted with the American Academy of Addiction Psychiatry (AAAP). I first learned about the AAAP, its mission, and activities at the 2017 American Psychiatric Association’s annual meeting in San Diego.
The APA seemed like one of the few venues where I could build on my interest in treating addiction disorders by attending any and all of its addiction-related lectures, while networking with premier psychiatrists treating substance use disorders who might be there. At the meeting, I came across the exhibitor’s booth for the AAAP. Soon, the AAAP’s membership and committee coordinator, Lulu Malko , along with Dr. Grace Hennessy , director, Psychiatry Addiction Fellowship Program at New York University, introduced themselves and the organization. They told me about everything from the AAAP’s various trainee tracks to its mentorship and networking opportunities, to its educational activities and workshops, as well as what was required to get directly involved with AAAP committees and apply for AAAP awards. Their description was highly intriguing – and sounded exactly like the next steps I was looking for.
Getting in and involved
After returning to New York, I took those next steps and joined up, which opened the AAAP gates so I could receive its newsletters and submission calls, gain access to resources such as The American Journal on Addictions , survey the various joinable task forces, as well as discover who might be available to me as a mentor as part of the AAAP’s mentor-mentee program.
Sometime during my third-year residency training, I received a member-email advertising the AAAP 28th Annual Meeting and Scientific Symposium, and soon after that, received another email calling for research submissions to be presented there, as well as an invitation to apply for a trainee travel scholarship that would defray the cost for and allow its fellows to attend the meeting in San Diego. That alone was enticing enough to apply. But even more enticing was the opportunity to showcase the addiction work I had been doing during my residency, as well as to meet other members at various levels of the AAAP to determine whether I wanted to become more involved.
I did not think twice about applying for the poster presentation and the travel scholarship. The AAAP’s online application forms for both were easy to understand and very well structured, which greatly helped me with filling out and formatting my applications. Taking the initiative toward even these first AAAP offerings brought more positive echoes. I was thrilled when the poster I proposed was accepted, mostly because it would give me the chance to present my recent addiction psych work from a higher platform. A few weeks later, I was thrilled again when I received an AAAP email congratulating me on being awarded the San Diego 28th annual meeting travel scholarship, which would waive the annual membership and conference registration fees, in addition to defraying my travel costs. Pacific breezes, here I come. And there I went. (Thanks to my extremely supportive training director, who first nominated me for the award.)
On the ground at the 2017 APA
The 28th AAAP annual meeting opened on a balmy December Thursday, and that’s the day I arrived. I attended many addiction workshops and symposiums, which featured premier figures in addiction psychiatry. Of the numerous trainee-specific events I attended, the most informative was the “Fellowship Forum: Exploring the Field of Addiction Psychiatry.” At this forum, I learned the true benefits of doing an addiction psychiatry fellowship, while meeting many of the fellowship program directors of top institutions. Having them all under one “roof” made it easy to compare and contrast the specific training they offered.
Then came what were, for me, major highlights of the AAAP 2017. After I delivered my poster presentation and shared my research, I was able to receive very close, constructive feedback from the field’s most experienced professionals. And, finally, I met my AAAP mentors face to face: Dr. Amy Yule of Harvard Medical School, Boston; Dr. Thomas Penders , of East Carolina University, Greenville, N.C.; and Dr. Cornel Stanciu of Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Lebanon, N.H.
One AAAP trainee’s takeaways
All AAAP trainees, fellows, presenters leave the meeting with their own conclusions, but my biggest takeaways were:
The challenges facing those of us dedicated to fighting addiction have never been greater. I would urge more trainees and psychiatrists to join the AAAP in light of the opioid crisis and the potential fallout tied to marijuana legalization. I am grateful to have the opportunity to join my colleagues in this fight. Becoming part of the AAAP has led to a highly rewarding, career-enriching experience.
Dr. Ahmed is a third-year resident in the department of psychiatry at Nassau University Medical Center, East Meadow, New York. Besides addiction psychiatry, his interests include public social psychiatry, health care policy, health disparities, and mental health stigma. Dr. Ahmed is a member of the American Psychiatric Association, the American Society of Clinical Psychopharmacology, and the American Association for Social Psychiatry.