By: Maureen Strohm, MD, FAAFP, DFASAM, MERF Representative
What a banner year this has been and will be going into the 50th CSAM Annual Conference! This summer we celebrate CSAM’s 50th Anniversary. MERF, the Medical Education and Research Foundation for the Treatment of Addictions, is CSAM’s younger sibling and will mark its 42th Anniversary at that time. Over the years, more than 600 residents, medical and psychology faculty, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, as well as new fellows have come through the MERF Scholars programs learning addiction medicine in a unique paradigm – our signature program brings teams of residents and faculty from institutions throughout California and beyond and provides Mentored Learning Experiences with faculty mentors throughout the course and the year that follows. Many of our CSAM and ASAM leaders are MERF graduates!
As our restrictions during the pandemic eased for 2022, we celebrated the chance to come together again with 52 MERF Scholars – residents, fellows, and faculty – participating in person, in small groups to learn strategies of motivational interviewing in the pre-conference workshop, “Motivational Interviewing for Busy Clinicians and Educators”, along with acquiring a myriad of teaching tools to use within the clinic setting once participants returned to their respective institutions.
The small groups continue their work together throughout the conference for case discussions and continued development of their planned projects upon return to their programs. Our quarterly Journal Clubs often continues the camaraderie as the group explores current articles, led by the author(s) of the article under review.
What has changed, and needs your help, is the availability of funding for this long-standing “signature” of MERF. Over the years, the scholarships have been sustained through private donations (including from our own founders and current members) as well as various short-term grants to cover participation expenses. MERF support has evolved from its early stipends mainly covering registration, to our initial MERF Scholars program, then to MERF Champions who came back for follow up training, and then our MATES program supported by state funding to reach out to our colleagues in the FQHCs integrating this important work into their practices.
Since 2022, we have been working to secure new funding and made the decision to support the majority of Scholars last year through our own reserves. At present, outside funding remains uncertain and so we are looking to new strategies to secure a sustainable funding stream that can support MERF scholars for years to come especially at a time when addiction medicine interest is growing and our residents and fellows choosing to specialize in addictions care are expanding.
The opioid epidemic is not going away, and in fact is worsening as it evolves to include stimulant-related deaths, fentanyl and its analogues and now xylazine, maintaining its grip on our patients, friends, families, and communities.
So let’s “pay it forward” – and donate to MERF today! While $1500 will fund one Scholar this year, we welcome all donations – even larger ones! If your organization has a charitable foundation, let us know whom to contact with our “ask.” Better yet, help us get a foot in that door!
Dr. Garrett O’Connor brought his indomitable force in refocusing MERF in 2000 to meet his passionately stated mission: to prevent the harm being done to patients by physicians who lack the knowledge, skill, and training to recognize and treat addiction. While we have updated that to include all clinicians, we honor his vision. Stop the harm! Help us spread the word, the knowledge and experience to all our colleagues!
*Our Mission is to prevent the harm being done to patients by the medical community by bridging the gap in knowledge, skill, and commitment to recognize and treat people with substance use disorders.