New UBMD doctor recalls starting residency right at the beginning of the pandemic; believes spirituality as part of whole-person approach can help some of those addicted to opioids
By Chris Motola
Q: Tell us about your work with addiction medicine and what “whole person care” means in that context.
A: I have done some work with addiction medicine research in the past. Addiction medicine is a very important aspect about caring about patients as a whole. Looking back before the pandemic, opioid addiction was a major health issue. It still is, but it was overshadowed by COVID the past few years. When I was a fourth-year medical student, I worked on a project that looked at opioid addiction recovery. And part of that project was to look at some novel and nontraditional ways we could treat opioid addiction. One of the things we looked at was spirituality as part of a whole-person approach. We found that a lot of patients did very well if they incorporated a bio-pyschosocial-spiritual model of recovery. It may not work for everyone, but it’s another tool in our toolbox that we can utilize to help folks along with their recovery.
Q: From a medical perspective, what is the role something like spirituality plays in recovery? Is it offloading some burden or neuroticism to an external construct?
A: Again, it may not work for everybody, but for some people it can be an effective aspect of treatment. Essentially for folks who are interested working on a spiritual aspect of their lives it can provide a source of comfort and strength. It can provide a community through a place of worship, which in turn can provide support for overcoming whatever medical condition or concern they have. For some folks, this is something that can be very helpful.
Q: Do you think we’re making progress in the opioid crisis?
A: It’s a challenging problem and remains a problem in terms of public health, but it’s one that we can once again put to the forefront with COVID winding down. So we can once again give it more attention as a medical profession and as a society.
Q: So you were doing your residency during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lucky you.
A: That’s right. My residency cohort started in 2020, just months after things got really bad. So it was a real challenge not only starting during a pandemic, but completing the whole of my residency during it. Now, fortunately things have calmed down over the past year, but for most of my training, we had to deal with COVID. Because so many patients got so sick and decompensated so quickly, we had to engage in many difficult conversations with not just the patients but with their families, their wishes and coming to terms with their prognosis. So for us it was an opportunity to practice that whole-person approach to medicine and dealing with the full spectrum of their needs and wishes.
Q: What do you think the pros and cons of having done your training under those conditions are now that you’re through it? Are you unprepared for normal?
A: Well, volume is a huge difference. The hospitals were just full while COVID was raging, so it was a much higher workload. We also saw patients that were much sicker than the average patient normally is. And that’s because the ICUs were so full of critically ill patients. We had to learn how to manage patients who were at serious risk of decompensation. Something else this pandemic taught us was empathy. How do you speak with and manage patients, and the families of patients, when they’re dealing with serious end-of-life issues.
Q: You’re winding down your residency training now, but you’ve been recognized for a couple honors, including the American Academy of Family Physicians President’s award, and were inducted into UB’s chapter of the national honor medical society Alpha Omega Alpha.
A: The Alpha Omega Alpha induction is something I’m particularly proud of. It’s an honor that is bestowed upon physicians for service and character. It’s one my program director recommended me for during my second year of residency. I submitted an essay, and she wrote a letter of recommendation for me, and I was selected from amongst a pool of very deserving applicants. It’s a wonderful honor and one I’m very proud of.
Q: What kind of work will you being doing post graduation?
A: I’m a family physician. I just recently graduated from residency. I’m going to be starting with UBMD Family Medicine of Amherst this coming fall. I’ll be seeing patients in an outpatient setting from newborns, through adolescence, through adulthood and old age. We care for a variety of acute and chronic issues, from heart issues to diabetes. Another aspect of our job that’s unique is that we can do some inpatient work as well. So every couple months we spend a week managing inpatient services at Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital where we care of admitted patients while they’re in the hospital. I’ll be seeing a broad spectrum of patients from children to adults when I start. Anyone who comes in, I’m looking forward to treating.
Q: What are you looking forward to most when you get started?
A: One part I’m looking forward to in particular is working with our family medicine residency program and working with new and existing residents and helping them to train them to be the best doctors they can be as part of the faculty.
Name: Steven Foulis, M.D.
Position: Family physician at UBMD
Education: Medical degree from the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; residency also at Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences
Affiliations: Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital
Honors: Recipient of the American Academy of Family Physicians President’s Award at the Jacobs School; inducted as a member of UB’s chapter of the national honor medical society, Alpha Omega Alpha; induction is the “the highest honor than can be bestowed in our profession” and signifies the lasting commitment to professionalism, leadership, scholarship, research and community service.
Research: Has conducted research on the role whole-person care can play in addiction recovery
Organizations: American Academy of Family Physicians; American Medical Association
Hobbies: Outdoor activities, Bills and Sabres fan, new restaurants, taking care of pet rabbit.