Louisville Physicians Take Leadership Roles with Kentucky Medical Association to Battle Opioid Abuse

Seven Louisville physicians took a leadership role during the recent gathering of the state’s physicians at the Kentucky Medical Association Annual Meeting in Louisville. While the organization adopted new policies and conducted its official business, the other facets of the meeting were not like ordinary meetings of the association. This year’s meeting was designed to foster ways of breaking down barriers to good health care, especially barriers that exist to addressing the issue of opioid abuse. To help break down those barriers, physicians from around the state were engaged in not only education, but also provided feedback to policymakers from state and local government.

“It was something we’ve never done before,” said Louisville Emergency Physician Robert Couch, MD, who was elected as the organization’s new Secretary/Treasurer. “We had great success in the most recent legislative session through passage of a law that broke down barriers for people who want to quit smoking. So we decided to take the lessons we learned from that success and apply them to the opioid issue that is ravaging our state.”

The KMA did this in a variety of ways. One was to bring in noted author Sam Quinones, whose book, Dreamland, documents the history of opioid abuse over the past thirty years.

“He was very insightful about the history of this problem, and what we might do to fix it,” Couch said. “He made the point that to overcome our addiction problem, we need to strengthen our communities and become more engaged with one another at every level. It was a message that resonated with physicians.”

KMA adopted Quinones’ message by highlighting and training individual physicians who can make a difference in their communities. One program recently instituted by the KMA was the Kentucky Physician Leadership Institute, known as KPLI. This new physician leadership program provides a small group of physicians with intensive training on subjects related to personal leadership, business leadership and advocacy leadership. Louisville physician Monalisa Tailor, MD, was a graduate of the KPLI’s first class of ten physicians from around the state. Doctor Tailor was also elected as KMA’s new Vice Speaker and will serve on the KMA Board of Trustees in that role.

“The KPLI group was trained to make a difference,” Couch said, “and we put them right to work at our annual meeting by having them lead a discussion on the opioid issue. It was the first such open discussion held by physicians from around the state of which I am aware.”

In addition to the KMA’s KPLI program, however, the association has had an active “Community Connector” program for a number of years that highlights physicians who have been leaders in both their local communities and in medicine. They must also complete a public health or public education service element. Three Louisville physicians – Doctor Couch, Cynthia Rigby, MD, and Rob Zaring, MD – were awarded KMA’s Community Connector designation at the meeting.

“The KMA Community Connector Program is the perfect way for physicians to not only be involved, but be encouraged to do even more,” Couch said.

Along with the elections of Doctor Couch and Doctor Tailor, Louisville physician Bruce Scott, MD, was elected as KMA’s President-Elect for 2017-2018. He will be inaugurated as KMA’s President at next year’s annual meeting. “Bruce is the right person at the right time to lead our profession,” Couch noted. “He is a leader at the national level in the AMA, and he can use his skills and experience in helping us address the opioid issue both nationwide and here in Kentucky.”

KMA also gave its Distinguished Service Award to Louisville physician Fred Williams, MD, who served as KMA President in 2013-2014. “Fred set us up for the success we’ve had these past few years as an organization,” Couch said. “During his presidency, he restructured the KMA to make us more focused on the most important issues of the day. That focus has allowed us to accomplish a great deal, and now we want to focus on the opioid issue. Thanks to Fred’s leadership, we can do that.”

Couch added, “I can think of no physician who was more deserving of our highest award than Fred.”
Louisville physician John Roberts, MD, was also elected to the KMA Board of Trustees and will serve a three year term. “John is a past-president of the Greater Louisville Medical Society so his experience will be invaluable at the statewide level,” Couch said.

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