It wasn’t until her third year of medical school that Dr. Christine Pace started to connect her interest in addiction with the pressing need for integrating behavioral health into primary care practices. Her leadership, vision, and success in moving addiction medicine forward led to Pace’s recent naming by the Boston Chamber of Commerce as one of their 2014 “Ten Outstanding Young Leaders” on October 29th.
The NIH estimates that about one in every eleven Americans needs treatment for drug or alcohol use, but as little as 1% are actually treated, primarily because of the social stigma attached to addictive behaviors. Pace says she has never had a problem looking past these negative associations. From a young age, she has carried with her a passion for serving and healing the people who struggle with substance abuse and its impacts on daily health.
As a teenager, Pace spent her summers interning with a social services organization that worked the HIV/AIDS population of New York City (at a time when little was understood about that disease or population). “Getting to know them and their stories, I became really moved by the illness of addiction,” she says, “and I also felt very angry about the stigma that I heard from them that they were facing from their physicians and their communities.”
After finishing an undergraduate degree in Biology and English at Williams College, Pace spent two years as a pre-doctoral fellow in the Department of Bioethics at the National Institutes of Health. She would later graduate from Harvard Medical School, eventually focusing her clinical training on Internal Medicine and Primary Care at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where she experienced the complex and multi-specialty needs of patients with alcohol and drug dependence issues. She also learned that these needs are often marginalized by the hidden curriculum in medical education.
Pace has published and taught on the topic of addiction treatment within the healthcare system, both in her post-doctoral fellowship at Boston University’s Clinical Addiction Research and Education (CARE) Unit, and as the Clinical Director of her program at BMC, where she has worked to integrate behavioral health services into primary care clinics.
Now, Pace splits her time between clinical, teaching, and administrative duties. She is also working to expand her integrated approach to a second primary care clinic, and to several ‘reverse-integration’ initiatives—where primary care and behavioral health services are retrofitted into an existing methadone clinic.
Pace says that she especially enjoys the opportunity to shape the culture of future physicians through her teaching. In her time as a physician, she’s noticed that many healthcare professionals either avoid the topic of addiction or reject it as a specialty. “In the field of addiction for a long time we’ve either thought that psychiatrists should deal with it or psychologists or social workers,” she says. “The reality is all these people contribute to a team approach.”
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