Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Specialty Certifications

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 7, 2015


Addiction Medicine, eating disorders, geriatric, child, psychoanalysis all suggest additional psychiatric training and yet the meaning of each certification is very different. There is an addiction medicine board which requires one year in an addiction medicine fellowship, followed by an examination with an 87% pass rate, and if you have worked in the field, that can count as your fellowship. With eating disorders, there is no board examination, but there are letters one can get after one’s name which says they are “certified” to treat eating disorders. Geriatric and child boards both imply a 1-2 year fellowship program along with a board examination. Yet, how much of this extra training is necessary, versus learning about these areas on the job? I am a board certified psychiatrist and I am a psychoanalyst. I do carry a bias that these two areas of extra training has widened my scope of practice and has given me the tools and the confidence to treat all patients, from cradle to grave. At the same time, I now work in the addiction world, and I also feel confident that my skill set is very useful there, and that I could sit for the addiction boards, but I am not sure I see the point. Would my colleagues respect me for it? Maybe. Is this worth the time and expense for board preparation? Maybe. Would my work with my substance abuse patients be more insightful, if I disciplined myself to study for this exam? Maybe. Typically, I am up for the challenge of a new certificate. I enjoy learning new things and I appreciate the neuronal stimulation this activity would give me. On the other hand, after 25 years in practice, I feel confident in my skill set and I see addiction, as with all of the human condition, as part of the self-destructive behaviors which in the short-term alleviate pain, but in the long-term create misery and hopelessness for the patient and for those around him. That argument is not very compelling. Knowledge is helpful and deepening my understanding of addiction is crucial to helping my patients. I think I should go for it.

2 Responses to “Specialty Certifications”

  1. Shelly said

    If you aren’t a psychiatrist and go into addiction medicine, such as a recovering addict who counsels other addicts, does one take the same exam and have to do the same practicum? What is the difference between the lay counselor who does this counseling and a physician who specializes in addiction medicine, other than the physician can prescribe medications?

    • Yes, the addiction world comes with many certifications which are, indeed, confusing. Addiction counselors take courses which give them a certificate. Addiction medicine could be primary care or psychiatry, and as you suggest, their major role is to prescribe medications which help with becoming and staying sober. As the addiction world explodes with high demand and good insurance coverage, the issue of these certifications could become more and more important. Thanks.

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