Madison Alumna Dr. Alison Miller Helps Patients Overcome Addiction

Alison Miller, DO

Madison faculty member Alison Miller, DO, finds greater meaning helping patients overcome addiction.

For Alison Miller, DO (Madison’02), more than a decade of practice left her feeling burned out. An accompanying sense of being tied to the computer and overly focused on volume and quality metrics, she started to feel overwhelmed, isolated, frustrated. Sometimes she felt her job was more about responding to the needs of health insurance companies rather than her patients.

Therapuetic Intervention

Health care organizations across the nation are beginning to adopt system-level interventions to mitigate physician burnout. At the same time, individual doctors like Dr. Miller are taking steps to reconnect to their purpose, which can also help improve their professional satisfaction and well-being. For Dr. Miller, that began with a wellness approach: promoting self-care at the UW Health Yahara Clinic where she works, and improving her own health through diet and exercise.  She also wanted to focus on the reason she became a doctor in the first place.  She wanted once again to help others. “I thought about what brings me joy at work and how I could get back the fulfillment I once had,” she recalls. “I remembered what I liked best about being a family doctor.”

Dr. Miller began seeing patients with addiction in her clinic. Recognizing that addiction is a chronic disease—and that as a family physician committed to whole-person care, she had the potential to help patients overcome addiction—gave greater meaning to her work.  She began seeking day-to-day clinical advice on managing patients with addiction from DFMCH Associate Professor Aleksandra Zgierska, MD, PhD, a family physician and an addiction medicine expert who practiced at her clinic. With Dr. Zgierska’s encouragement and mentoring, Dr. Miller went on to complete training to obtain a waiver to prescribe buprenorphine for patients with opioid addiction. Now, she’s certified by the American Society of Addiction Medicine to teach waiver training herself.  Her enthusiasm for medicine was revitalized. “Being a primary care physician with the waiver has allowed me to help patients with substance use disorders return to a functioning lifestyle,” she reflects. “I have seen patients feel normal again after years of struggle and searching for the care they need. This has been the most profound therapeutic intervention I have given in my career.”    

Dr. Miller is also grateful to Randall Brown, MD, PhD, DFASAM, a DFMCH associate professor, and Michael Miller, MD, an addiction psychiatrist and member of the University Hospital addiction medicine consulting service, for sharing their expertise with her. She’s also deepened her knowledge and forged valuable professional connections through the University of Wisconsin Addiction Consultation Provider Hotline, the Addiction & Co-morbid Conditions: Enhancing Prevention & Therapeutics (ACCEPT) videoconference series and the Wisconsin Society of Addiction Medicine-hosted monthly drop-in telephone town hall series, which is open to all clinicians.

Dr. Miller acknowledges that she now works harder than ever seeing all of her patients, finishing notes and reviewing files.  But focusing on this population has renewed her energy and strengthened relationship with her patients.

Published: January 2020