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Meet Yale Internal Medicine: Jeanette Tetrault, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine (General Internal Medicine).

May 28, 2019
by Julie Parry

As part of our “Meet Yale Internal Medicine” series, today’s feature is on Jeanette Tetrault, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine (General Internal Medicine).

Passionate about science and writing, Jeanette Tetrault, MD, thought science journalism might be her future line of work. But when she won a science award after her freshman year of college, one of her professors approached her and asked her to consider going into medicine. Through a unique program in Boston called the Modular Medical Integrated Curriculum, she could design her pre-medical education and go directly into medical school after completing her undergraduate degree.

“It was just a passing conversation, but I started to think more and more about it,” explained Tetrault. “I started volunteering in hospitals and clinics and realized that I could combine my deep-seated interest in social justice with caring for people and making a difference in their lives. It was then that I realized medicine was the path I wanted to take.”

Tetrault chose a career in primary care internal medicine. In her fourth year of medical school, she spent some time doing an away elective with Stephen Huot, MD, PhD, who would eventually become one of her mentors. Tetrault was inspired by the faculty at Yale School of Medicine (YSM) and knew she wanted to work with them.

After completing her medical degree, she chose the Yale Primary Care Program for residency training. At the time, few residencies had a ‘true separate’ programs, as YSM has, rather than just a track.

Originally, Tetrault’s field of interest was HIV, but during her residency, she saw a shift in how patients living with HIV fared as the treatment landscape changed. Medications for HIV were advancing so patients began to live longer but were facing challenges such as pain, side effects of HIV treatment, untreated mental health, and substance use. Inspired by the work of those faculty working in addiction medicine at YSM such as Patrick O’Connor, MD, MPH, FACP; David Fiellin, MD; and Lynn Fiellin, MD, Tetrault realized that addiction medicine was the specialty that she was meant to pursue.

“The field has the aspects of the things I’d always wanted: fascinating science, the ability to develop lasting relationships with patients, social justice, caring for the underserved, and solving big problems,” Tetrault explained. “At Yale, we had a lot of highly funded researchers in this area, but I recognized that there was a real need to expand medical education. There was a void that I could potentially fill and work on addiction curriculum development.”

So she has.

Tetrault completed her fellowship at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System in research methodology and joined the YSM faculty. Most of her work is in addiction medicine, treating patients with substance use disorders and running the Addiction Medicine Fellowship Program where she serves as director.

She can’t think of anything more rewarding in her career than helping patients living with substance use disorders.

“I care for patients with a highly stigmatized disease using evidence-based treatments that we know work. However, because the treatment itself is also highly stigmatized, there are a lot of barriers to patients seeking treatment,” said Tetrault. “By providing addiction treatment to patients, you can not only manage symptoms of their disease, but many of the consequences that affect their lives and their health. As a result of addiction, many individuals have lost their marriages, their homes, their jobs, their children. To be able to provide a medication and counseling and watch the patient be able to put the pieces of their lives back together, I can't think of anything more rewarding. It’s a phenomenal privilege to be part of that journey with a patient and their family.”

Tetrault wants to continue to educate future physicians in substance use disorder and further destigmatize the disease.

“Disproportionately our trainees are seeing numerous patients with addiction, yet the traditional medical curriculum does not provide adequate training. By and large, nationwide, we don't provide trainees with the tools to recognize, manage or prevent this disease. I do think Yale is ahead of the curve in curriculum development in this area and much of that is because of the commitment the administration has made to educating current and future physicians about addiction,” explained Tetrault. “My primary career goals are to work on further expanding addiction education throughout the training spectrum, promote training that breaks down the barriers of stigma, and do everything I can to advocate for patients to have better access to care.”

Of all the opportunities she’s had at YSM, she is driven by the mentorship she has received within the department and the Section of General Internal Medicine.

“Find the people that make you feel like you're doing your best job,” said Tetrault. “Those are the people you want to be around. They make me want to do my job better and give me the resources to do so. I feel very supported at Yale.”

For more information on the Addiction Medicine program at YSM, visit Yale Program in Addiction Medicine, for which Tetrault serves as the associate director of education and training.

Submitted by Julie Parry on May 28, 2019