2014 Scaife Medical Student Fellowship

Med Students Seek Addiction Training in Pittsburgh

May 13, 2014


Contact: Jessica Williams, Project Manager at the Institute for Research, Education and Training in Addictions (IRETA)
E: jessica@ireta.org
P: 412-258-8561

Medical Students Seek Addiction Training in Pittsburgh

(Pittsburgh, PA) Beginning in June, 16 medical students from across the U.S. will travel to Pittsburgh for an immersive educational experience on the science and treatment of addiction at the Institute for Research, Education and Training in Addictions (IRETA). Funded by the Scaife Family Foundation, the 19-year old Scaife Medical Student Fellowship is one of only two in the country that responds to the dearth of addiction training in medical school curriculum by providing a specialized program before students enter residencies or professional settings.

Despite research showing that training improves physicians’ ability to address substance use disorders, the average four-year medical school devotes a total of only 12 hours of curricular time to these disorders.  In contrast, this summer in Pittsburgh, each Scaife medical student will receive a 120-hour educational experience on substance use, addiction and related issues.

“Medical schools devote very little time to addiction in their curriculum and influencing that curriculum has been slow-moving,” said IRETA Executive Director Peter Luongo, Ph.D. “So we host a supplemental summer fellowship.  It’s important to understand that these students are not necessarily pursuing addiction medicine as a specialty; they’re interested in primary care, emergency medicine, osteopathy, and other specialty areas.  All of these pieces of the healthcare system need to be able to recognize and address risky substance use and addiction.”

The three-week immersive Scaife Fellowship in Pittsburgh emphasizes site visits, patient interaction, and clinical shadowing. Medical student participants visit many behavioral health and related service providers in western Pennsylvania, including Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic, Gateway Rehab, the Allegheny County Jail, Pennsylvania Women for Early Recovery (POWER), Operation Safety Net, and Prevention Point Pittsburgh.  The curriculum is designed not only to introduce students to the specialty addiction treatment field, but also to generate dialogue about the ways in which the issue of addiction intersects with broader social issues like child and maternal health, mental health, homelessness, specific populations like older adults and the LGBTQ community, overdose, and the criminal justice system.

There are serious economic and social costs to ignoring risky substance use.  Alcohol use is America’s fourth leading cause of preventable death, but only 1 in 6 patients have ever spoken with their doctor about it.  Less than 20% of primary care physicians consider themselves “very prepared to identify alcohol or drug dependence.”  Over 20,000 people per day enter emergency rooms with alcohol-related injuries or illnesses.


Located in Pittsburgh, PA, the Institute for Research, Education and Training in Addictions (IRETA) is a 501(c)3 nonprofit that works toward the alignment of science, policy and practice in the area of substance abuse.

While there have been many scientific advances in the understanding of addiction and its treatment, this information does not sufficiently inform policy and practice. Although the divide between science and practice/policy is widely recognized, there are only a handful of organizations like IRETA in the country that specifically focus on bridging this gap.

More information about the Fellowship (including a sample schedule) is available here

Fellowship information (and student perspectives) on the IRETA Blog.