Removing the Stigma of Addiction

TouroCOM Harlem Student Participates in Innovative Internship at Betty Ford Clinic

August 26, 2019
TouroCOM Harlem student Evelyn Rajan (front row, third from left) spent part of her summer as an addiction medicine intern at the Betty Ford Clinic.

“The goal of the internship was to destigmatize addiction,” explained Rajan. “It’s a huge issue in America, especially with the recent opioid crisis. The goal of the program was to show that there is more to an addict than their addiction.”

For a week in July, Rajan and 15 other medical students spent close to 12 hours a day in the facility. Interns, divided by gender, were placed in group therapy sessions with recovering addicts. Though they identified themselves as medical students, interns were asked not to wear scrubs during the session. The interns were also encouraged to talk about themselves during the sessions.

“It was a great opportunity to learn about these people and what they suffer from,” Rajan related. “As doctors, we are going to know their charts when they come into the hospital, but we won’t be able to get a sense of them as people, especially if we see them in the emergency room. The internship allowed us to see how these people are actively trying to beat their disease and it was great to see that perspective.”

During the sessions, Rajan, who plans to become an ER doctor, said she felt a sense of kinship with the patients.

“A lot of recovering addicts spoke about their fear of failure and the anxiety that accompanies it,” recalled Rajan. “Many of us have the same fears and we were able to bond over that experience. It was humbling.”

“I talked about myself and my experiences in medical school,” Rajan continued. “As medical students, we’re all high-achieving individuals and being in medical school is difficult. I could relate to the patients when it came to stories of anxiety and fear of failure. You’re able to bond. We all have our own stories: We’ve all been through heartbreak and grief.”

Several of the patients spoke of how they appreciated the interns spending time with them. “They mentioned when you see doctors in an addiction setting it’s hard to trust them,” said Rajan. “They really appreciated the effort we were making to understand the disease of addiction. As physicians, we want to create a trusting environment and being able to understand what people are suffering from allows us to do that.”

The group sessions were supplemented with lectures on how to deal with change in their personal lives, the bio-psycho-social-spiritual aspects of the disease of addiction, and holistic approaches to care. “It was very introspective,” Rajan explained.

If the internship was slightly untraditional, it follows Rajan’s slightly untraditional path to medical school. As a student at the University of Delaware with an interest in public health, she studied sociology and women’s studies. “While I was interested in public health, I didn’t think I wanted to become a doctor,” said Rajan. “I talked to lawyers, doctors and dentists and shadowed a hospital team before finally deciding to pursue medicine.” Rajan did a post-bac at SUNY Purchase and said while the adjustment to medical school was difficult, she really enjoyed her second semester. “TouroCOM is a very collaborative environment,” said Rajan. “Everyone—from your teachers to your classmates—wants you to do well.”

After finishing this internship, Rajan, together with several of her TouroCOM classmates, joined an emergency medical internship in Staten Island Hospital run by a TouroCOM alumnus.

“My biggest take away was not to judge someone based on their addiction,” concluded Rajan “There are so many factors and you don’t know why or how someone became an addict and there’s much more to the story than their diseases.”