Thaddeus Salmon, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine and pediatrics, recognized addiction as a major health challenge for patients in Kentucky. He felt that as a physician, it was “a moral conviction” to continue learning how he could best serve his patients and integrate addiction medicine into his practice.

He was encouraged by colleagues to apply for the Bell Addiction Medicine Scholar program, part of the University of Kentucky Bell Alcohol and Addiction Endowed Chair efforts to expand physician education and training for the advancement of patient care and substance abuse treatment.

In 2020, Dr. Salmon was named the Bell Scholar. He says he is thankful to have taken the opportunity – and explains why other UK faculty should apply this year.

Q: What did you get to experience as the Bell Scholar?

A: There are a few aspects of the Bell Scholar experience, which are all geared toward supporting a faculty member in whatever one would like to pursue in the realm of addiction medicine. The program also covers travel and registration for a conference on addiction medicine topics, membership in a professional society, and then mentoring throughout the year.

The project I worked on at first was to improve tobacco screening rates in our primary care clinic. I worked with staff members and did some training and education to enhance our workflows.

Then, I still had time left in my Bell Scholar year. It had been my long-term goal to work on opioid use disorder (OUD) treatment in primary care. We were able to basically build a new program within the clinic. And around the same time, our department had hired a clinical pharmacist and social workers. They became integral parts of our OUD treatment team. It's still a pretty small program, but it makes a big difference. One, for my patients that we can bring more of their care into one place instead of them having to go lots of different places for appointments, including addiction care. But also for my own learning, knowing that I am able to take good care of people in this way. And then for medical students and residents, that they can gain exposure to all different types of patients and be ready to take that kind of care out into practice in Kentucky and beyond.

Q: How has the Bell Scholar impacted your career?

A: It has already been helpful in teaching with students and residents, as well as working with my faculty colleagues. Through the year we were able to host provider training at our clinic. So now we have three other providers who have been trained and are starting to integrate treatment for opioid use disorder within the primary care setting.

Q:  How does addiction medicine fit into your practice?

A: I practice at the UK Polk-Dalton Clinic, and we have a very diverse clinic population. One thing that I like to stress to our learners and people who are seeing this program in action is that a lot of the patients are showing up for work every day. They're maintaining and repairing relationships that have been impacted by substance use disorders. We’re able to take care of them and include other aspects of their health. For me, the goal is to integrate this and make it a normal part of primary care, that it's not seen as stigmatized or an extra thing outside of regular health care.

Q: Why should faculty apply to be the Bell Scholar?

A: I would emphasize how flexible this experience is. It is really just the right balance of freedom to pursue what you want to pursue, but it also provides enough accountability to make that project happen and to integrate new practices.

I think the other factor is how universal the need is for improved treatment for substance use disorders. There are so many patients who need us to catch up to the standard of care, and I know there are a lot of faculty who want to improve their skills. So, I hope that someone will take advantage of this opportunity, where they'll receive support and coaching to reach those goals.

UK College of Medicine faculty interested in applying for the Bell Scholar can click here for more information. (Two-factor login required.) Applications are open until April 14.