I wish more doctors understood the significance of Gut-Brain interaction, especially those in the field of gastroenterology. How can you study the digestive system and not take into account the two major organs that are hard wired with bi-directional communication? The absence of this knowledge coupled with a dualistic model failed me as a patient and robbed me of ten very precious years of my life.
In 2009, my normal, healthy and happy life took a drastic turn into a decade of endless testing, endless pain, and endless expenses with no answers and no hope. My GI symptoms were initially mild and probiotics seemed to do the trick. But add on sinus infections, bronchitis, repeated antibiotics, and unmanaged stress – my symptoms became severe. I desperately wanted wellness – for myself and my family. Local doctors could not explain my symptoms, and dozens of tests showed that everything was “normal.” I repeatedly echoed the sentiments of Johanna Ruddy: “I AM IN PAIN. WHAT’S WRONG WITH ME? WHY CAN’T SOMEONE HELP ME.” While I was never suicidal, I continually prayed, “Lord heal me, take me or sustain me.” I remember telling my husband, “I can’t continue to live with this level of pain.” I was discouraged, hopeless and miserable!
Repeated trips to three nationally recognized medical centers cost me thousands of dollars. Typical GI tests were performed and dietary restrictions were recommended. A team of doctors at Mayo Clinic “found nothing wrong.” Weight loss of thirty pounds could not be explained. One doctor told me to ignore my symptoms – like a pilot putting duct tape over the cock-pit controls. They diagnosed me with “unintentional anorexia” and “health anxiety.” I was humiliated and lost all respect for the medical community. If only they assigned the correct diagnosis and understood dysregulation of the brain-gut pathway.
For the next eight years, I floundered. My pain was 24/7 – 365 – level 10! Looking back, I don’t know how I survived. I faked my way through raising three children and being a loving wife. I resorted to mental distraction at work as a coping mechanism because I had no other choice. But then in 2017, God answered my prayers of desperation and led me to a doctor in Charleston, SC who had studied under Dr. Drossman as a GI Fellow, at UNC-Chapel Hill. In a single visit, after a short series of questions, this doctor accurately identified my illness, and referred me to Drossman Care.
I, and my family, are forever indebted and grateful to Dr. Drossman and the Rome Foundation for the magnitude of research done in the field of DGBI’s. Through the care and guidance of Dr. Drossman, I am thrilled to say, I HAVE MY LIFE BACK and I AM PAIN FREE. Healing doesn’t happen overnight and for me, it was a process. It was important for me to acknowledge that years of misdiagnosis would take time to unravel – and the severity of my symptoms would require multiple layers of treatment. My first visit with Dr. Drossman set the stage for success. His methods of communication set me at ease and conveyed a sense of care and concern. He educated me with diagrams and even gave me several journal articles which I happily read. I trusted Dr. Drossman — perhaps the most critical step — because without trust, there is no viable treatment plan. Time invested in the Patient Doctor Relationship yielded a huge ROI! And Dr. Drossman’s poop emoji pillow made me smile and definitely helped me let my guard down.
When I arrived at Drossman Care in 2017, I was stuck in a vicious cycle with no way out. An accurate diagnosis coupled with Rome Foundation Research paved the way for healing. My treatment included Pharmacology + CBT + Doctor’s Care + Time. Neuromodulators were necessary to regulate signals to the brain. Equally, if not more important, CBT helped me identify and change behaviors that were hurtful and an impedance to healing. Calm the brain, calm the gut! I wasn’t crazy, but my A-type, overachieving personality needed a total OVERHAUL. Today, my life is vastly improved, better balanced and even restful. I am thankful that the biopsychosocial model not only saved my life but gave me a much better quality of life to enjoy!
Karen Salem, Patient
As part of my medicine-psychiatry residency training, I have had numerous opportunities to manage patients with functional gastrointestinal disorders from a psychiatric perspective.
I contacted Dr. Drossman in summer of 2015 in hopes of furthering my education and clinical knowledge in the area of functional gastrointestinal disorders. He graciously forwarded several articles in the study of the biopsychosocial model and GI medicine and, with his staff’s assistance, we coordinated a clinical preceptorship for December 2015.
The articles Dr. Drossman provided set the stage for a biopsychosocial focus in delivered care which coincided with my previous experience with this model. However, while psychiatric providers with whom I had interacted used a similar model, I had not witnessed a clinician apply it in encounters with patients having functional gastrointestinal disorders.
During the clinical preceptorship I was able witness how Dr. Drossman followed up with patients he has known for years and effectively establish the beginnings of a therapeutic relationship with new consultations. I witnessed repeated encounters where patients recalled their initial experience with their symptoms and highlighted evaluations with previous clinicians that resulted in ongoing and often unrelenting symptoms and
frustrations with medical management that often left more questions than answers, with fears for future quality of life.
Dr. Drossman would very carefully navigate these clinical encounters and provide hope for these emotionally frustrated and physically ill patients. He achieved this by implementing effective interview skills to help with information gathering and itself provide a therapeutic effect, and use the biopsychosocial model to assess the patient and create a shared-decision making model for future management of symptoms.
The three main takeways from the preceptorship with Dr. Drossman: 1. The biopsychosocial model is an effective tool to help understand and manage a patient’s symptoms. 2. Effective interview skills not only provide efficiency during clinical encounters but also provide an emotional connection between patient & provider that bolsters the therapeutic relationship. 3. The shared decision-making model is an often-forgotten tool that can be applied to patient encounters, whether these are new patient consultations or with patients that have been medically managed for years.
I would like to thank DrossmanCare for the excellent clinical opportunity I was afforded and I look forward to implementing the tools learned in future clinical encounters with patients.
Ruthvik Padival, MD, Internal Medicine – Psychiatry Resident
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics
I spent two weeks at the Drossman Center of Biopsychosocial Care in Chapel Hill. It was an amazing opportunity that Dr. Drossman first mentioned to me when he was a guest speaker at the Cleveland Clinic. It was a privilege to be able to visit the Center and learn from the experience. It was a unique clinic with a focus on patient care and outcomes. I learned a great deal from observing patient-physician visits/interactions, reading articles and gaining familiarity with the medications used for functional GI disorders. I also spent time with Dr. Burnett, psychologist specializing in GI disorders and learned about his approach to managing GI patients. An excellent experience overall and beautiful Center!
Samita Garg, MD – Staff, Division of Gastroenterology
Digestive Disease & Surgery Institute Cleveland Clinic Foundation
I saw Dr. Drossman after suffering for months with abdominal pain. He was compassionate, listened to my story, and explained treatment plans clearly to me. Last year, I was weak, in pain, and struggling to work and care for my daughter. This year, I can eat almost anything and have no abdominal pain. I am able to work, care for my daughter, and have been able to re-enroll in graduate classes. Highly recommend!
Beth C-W., Patient
“…your agreeing to collaborate with me has been one of the great moments in my life as well. Your career has been a wonderful contribution to so many doctors, so many patients. Congratulations on a life well-lived. Stay healthy and keep working for another 20 years. Unless you want to go back to your rock band (I just started guitar lessons several months ago-no music background before-and I love it).”
Dr. Harley Sobin, Gastroenterologist, retired
I am currently a GI fellow at OHSU in Portland, OR, and as a part of the American Neurogastroenterology and Motility Society’s clinical training program at UNC, I was scheduled to spend several days in Dr. Drossman’s functional GI clinic. Given the significant overlap between gastrointestinal motility and functional disorders, this was quite an important component of my month-long motility training, but prior to my first encounter with Dr. Drossman, it simply felt like a box that needed to be checked, a rite of passage per se. Little did I know, I was grossly underestimating the impact of this incredible experience.
Prior to my first encounter with Dr. Drossman, I had found these types of patients in my own fellows clinic to be incredibly difficult. They had problems to which I couldn’t give an organic diagnosis – such as with labs, imaging, or endoscopic evaluation – and the treatments I were using were either poorly tolerated or just plain ineffective. So seeing a simple chief complaint of bloating would incite feelings of insecurity, and the patient encounter would leave me feeling somewhat worthless and unfulfilled as a physician. It was clearly frustrating for me, but I can only imagine how my patients felt.
It only took moments in Dr. Drossman’s office for me to realize that he is going where no other physician has gone. He actively listens to his patients, not only hearing their GI concerns, but also taking into account the global aspects of their lives – both past and present – just listening, without a single interruption.
Centuries after our forefathers in medicine sought to disconnect the mind and body, Dr. Drossman is finally bringing them back together and treating patients as a whole. He also surrenders the patriarchal physician-patient model and engages each patient in his or her care, allowing the patients to drive their own bus toward their well being, while providing them with the means and support to get there.
His knowledge of the pathophysiology of these functional GI disorders is insurmountable and he is able to communicate it in a language that is understood by all, so that after seeing dozens of doctors and undergoing testing ad nauseam, his patients finally have answers to why they feel the way they do. This understanding is just the beginning of their journey to wellness. He also provides options for novel therapies targeting the pathophysiologic pathway – fully understanding and explaining the mechanisms involved. And they work. Patients return having received great mental and physical benefit from this holistic approach. And many of them have a new-found quality of life that they never imagined was possible.
Thanks to Dr. Drossman, I have returned home with a new perspective and a much more fulfilling approach. I now see the bloating, the abdominal pain, the nausea, and other functional complaints with a sense of optimism. By using the skills that I have learned from Dr. Drossman (and perhaps an occasional ‘phone a friend’ call for advice), I truly believe I can help make them well. It was an opportunity that has shaped my career and for which I will forever be thankful.
And finally, a special thank you to Dr. Drossman’s excellent PA, Kellie Bunn, as well, who knows more about treating functional GI disorders than I probably ever will!
Emily Rolfsmeyer, MD
Currently a GI fellow at OHSU in Portland, OR
Doug has made major contributions to our understanding of how to help patients whose clinical problems are not easily diagnosed or managed with the endoscope or with other diagnostic or interventional techniques. In fact, his talent and influence in this area have been so profound that UNC students, residents, fellows and indeed faculty, see him as the person to go to when they need help.
M. Andrew Greganti, MD, Vice Chair, Medicine
UNC School of Medicine
Few academicians in medicine have had such an impact as Doug. His ability to teach and demonstrate patient interview skills and the physician-patient relationship are legendary and have educated physicians, residents and students all over the world. His studies of the bio-psycho-social impact and its role in functional gastrointestinal diseases represent landmark publications. The creation of the Rome Foundation and criteria has revolutionized the categorization, diagnosis and treatment of functional GI diseases. These are but a few of his accomplishments. Doug tells me that he considers me one of his mentors. I hope that is so, because I have been proud, and I might say, quick, to claim this role also so that I could also bask in his glory. However, I have reminded him that when he started the afterhours, problem patient conferences some 30 years ago (and I understand that they still go on today), I was one of the inaugural attendees. Doug taught me, his Division Director, how to interview and manage patients. I still employ what he taught me. So I salute him today, not as a mentor, but as a mentee.
Don Powell, MD, Former Chief of GI at UNC
During the summer of 2010 I had the pleasure of joining Dr Drossman in his clinic for a month. For me it was truly a “masters class” and an experience I would always cherish. Naturally before I came to NC I was aware of Dr Drossman’s work in the field of functional GI disorders but being able to participate in a “live performance” (and it is indeed a performance) was a profound experience for me both personally and professionally. The way he is implementing the “Biopsychosocial model theory” into the most complicated cases in the GI practice is truly the “art of medicine”. There is not a single day since that I am not using a fraction of what I have learned from him. I know that watching him at work made me a better care giver for my patients and for that I am very grateful. I would like to take this opportunity to wish him all the best in his future plans and encourage him to stay restless, productive and innovative as he has always been.
Roy Dekel, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine
Ichilov Medical Center, Tel Aviv, Israel
Doug has had an enormously positive influence on me in several ways. He has been a wonderful mentor who has always had my best interest in mind. Seeing patients with him in his clinic gave me a completely different perspective on taking care of patients. He taught me how to establish a positive, interactive relationship with patients, actively listen, empower patients, and to value patience. He also taught me that active listening can be very therapeutic for patients. Doug has guided me in working effectively in leadership positions on the Rome Board and Functional Brain-Gut Group. He always makes himself available and is happy to help others. Doug has been a wonderful role model for me. He is a leader and icon in the field of functional gastrointestinal disorders. I feel extremely fortunate to call Doug my mentor, colleague and good friend.
Lin Chang, MD
Center for Neurovisceral Sciences and Women’s Health
I consider myself extremely fortunate to have spent a part of my tenure as a GI fellow under your training. The skills I have acquired under your tutelage are essential in managing complicated patients (not only with functional GI disorders) effectively. Perhaps, most important I have learned more about myself as a physican. I will miss our weekly interactions and discussions on a wide variety of topics. For the fellows, you were an exceptional teacher and true friend. Good luck with your future endeavors. As long as there is a GI fellowship program at UNC, your work and the “Drossman” name will live on!
Shehzad Sheikh, MD, PhD Fellow
University of North Carolina GI
Working with Doug has been an amazing eye-opening experience, and one quickly realizes why he is one of the gurus of FGID. It has changed the way how I approach my patients and shaped my subspeciality practice. I am privileged to have journeyed with him as a mentor, a collaborator and a friend.
Reuben Wong, MD
National University Hospital, Singapore
His personable and engaging teaching style, expertise, and generosity of time and mentorship contributed to making Dr. Drossman’s visit to Pittsburgh extremely useful. His offer for ongoing mentorship in clinical, research, and educational missions is priceless.
Eva Szigethy, MD
Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh
Doug, it was 1992 when our paths first crossed at DDW in San Francisco. Your concern for the patient population that IFFGD represented and willingness to believe in what we hoped to accomplish has remained for nearly twenty years. We have come a long way together. We have been through ups and downs and continue to persist in our efforts to make life better for patients. Your commitment has been immeasurable. Your contributions to the field have changed the lives of patients throughout the world. We are grateful for the day we met. We wish only the best to you, Debbie and your family as you continue with your life work.
Nancy and Bill Norton
The International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders (IFFGD)
As a GI fellow, it is truly a privilege to have had the opportunity to train with Dr. Drossman given his depth of knowledge, unique expertise, his eminence in the world of functional GI disorders, and his powerful insight. From working with him in clinic and in the inpatient setting, I’ve grown more comfortable with managing patients struggling with functional problems, using both communication tools and pharmacologic remedies. I have always appreciated Dr. Drossman’s approachability, his good-naturedness, and his enthusiasm for working with fellows.
Seth Crockett, MD
Fellow, UNC GI
I am forever grateful for the opportunity to work for Dr. Doug Drossman. He was beyond an employer; he was my teacher and mentor. He imparted to me much of his invaluable wisdom about GI medicine, a biopsychosocial approach to patient care, and life in general. My future in medicine is enriched in large part because of his influence in my life.
Hollie Edwards, Former Research Assistant for Dr. Drossman
Medical Student, East Carolina University
Doug’s impact on medicine won’t be measured monetarily, but rather in patients helped and physicians trained. His worldwide work in the field echoes that of his mentor George Engel and provides a clear path for working with patients with difficult problems from a patient centered perspective. Doug has re-taught many physicians something that is often trained out of them in medical school – the art of being human. His patients and the practice of medicine will continue to benefit greatly from his work.
Stephan Weinland, PhD
Psychologist, Womack Army Medical Center, Ft. Bragg
Doug’s devotion to understanding patients beyond their physical symptoms has been inspiring. I am appreciative that I have had him as a mentor who has impressed upon me the importance of patience and compassion in dealing with patients, and I hope to continue to apply his teachings in my career.
Christina Wrennall, Research Assistant
I often wondered what in my interview with Dr. Douglas Drossman made me decide to take an extra year of training after completing my GI fellowship, instead of accepting one of several job offers I had. I did not know what exactly that would be, but I knew I was interviewed by a master. One year extended into two, but the gifts of Dr. Drossman’s mentorship and the influence he had on my professional and personal development are lifelong. I can make a long list of things I observed, lessons I learned and skills I developed but the gift of a true mentor goes beyond the coaching. True mentorship is about process not content. It is performance, not agenda oriented; it encourages reflection and self-learning rather than specific skill building. I soon realized that they are a gift from Doug to me – unbiased support and help in developing of my own ideas and abilities. I was learning not every day but every minute while observing Doug’s true dedication to patient care, superb time management and delegation skills, his ability to teach and inspire GI fellows and medical students, his endless curiosity and passion for research and his remarkable dedication to mentoring. Looking back, I now realize that learning advanced communication skills is undoubtedly the most valuable gift I received from Dr. Drossman. It changed the way I listen and talk to my patients forever and I believe it has made me a better physician and a person. Over my two years at the Center, Doug spent many, hours observing me interviewing patients and providing feedback. He would patiently listen to conversations I recorded with patients and suggest an alternative approach. I gradually built confidence in taking care of patients with complex and challenging chronic functional GI conditions. Though success is mainly a personal effort, behind most successful people there is a mentor- a special person who invests time and energy in developing the skills and growth of another person. I am forever grateful for having an exceptional mentor – Dr. Douglas Drossman. As I am now mentoring others, I often think of Doug. I am beginning to discover that being a mentor is almost as great of a gift as having one.
Albena Halpert, MD
Boston University Medical Center
At the opening reception of my first American Psychosomatic Society meeting in 1990, where I knew nobody and was trembling with shyness, Doug Drossman took me under his wing. I was a practicing internist with ideas of inventing for myself how to study the influences of stress on organic gastrointestinal disease, and Doug instantly became both a role model and a lifeline for my research. Over the years he was always ready to hear me out on what variable to choose or who to call where or how to handle a conflict between colleagues, and inevitably had something thoughtful, calming, and useful to say; Doug has a special gift for giving you advice while increasing your sense of autonomy. My research sort-of-career would have been unimaginable otherwise. I will never stop being grateful to him for drawing me into the APS and other organizations, for his invitations to write and speak and collaborate, for his friendship. And for introducing me to blackjack.
Susan Levenstein, MD
Aventino Medical Group, Rome, Italy
“You may not know just how grateful I am for how you helped me…but I had gotten to the point where I was afraid to leave my home…lest something totally socially unacceptable would happen. One or two visits to you later and I am living abroad, travel everywhere…even India…or remote jungle living in Cambodia and no worries. I do credit you with this transformation in my life.”
Sydney, Kuala Lumpur Patient
“He makes it clear that YOU are in charge of your health care. It’s always a team effort. I had been in pain for so long, I didn’t think anyone could help me until I found Dr. Drossman.”
Erin, Maryland Patient
“Dr. Drossman is the most attentive, caring and compassionate doctor I’ve ever encountered. As far as his knowledge and understanding of my digestive problems, my Mayo doctor said it all when he referred me to Dr. Drossman. He said Dr Drossman literally wrote the book on IBS and other functional GI problems, there is no one better than him.”
Renee, Florida Patient
Doug Drossman is truly one of a kind!.
I have worked with Doug for over ten years on several AGA related educational activities both domestic and international in nature. With every activity he brings a unique perspective and a high level of creativity to the table. He can conceptualize an abstract idea and bring it to life and in doing so he enhances the educational experience for the learner.
He is passionate about helping medical specialists of all sorts be better communicators when talking with their patients. And he practices what he preaches. Whether it be through video vignettes, roll playing or group exercises, each are designed to help uncover communication challenges as well as communication strengths. And then Doug provides practical, understandable and most importantly actionable advice to help bridge the communication gap between the doctor and the patient. It works!
I have watched this experience firsthand at a two day communications workshop he created for AGA. It was intense, it was revealing and it was most of all helpful. The feedback from attendees was off the chart! A testament to his positive, upbeat and novel approach to teaching and facilitating. He is an educator who makes a difference.
Senior VP of American Gastroenterological Association
Dear Dr. Drossman, I want to thank you again for everything you have taught me. I am practicing malignant hematology and bone marrow transplant at Cedars-Sinai, Los Angeles, which is an academic program. The most important philosophy which I learned from you and I carry in my practice: I know, I can’t cure all my patients, and, sometimes, I can’t even treat them, but, it is my first and foremost obligation to relieve their suffering and to make them feel better by the end of the visit, to give them the powerful knowledge of what it feels like to be pain (whether physical or mental) free. I can attest, that I achieve this therapeutic moment at almost 100% of the visits. I love my practice, and I am pretty sure that the patients are very satisfied. I will always remember how you brought relief to the patients just by sitting on their bed and talking to them, listening, and asking the right questions.
Every day I work on passing your approach to the medical students and residents. I want you to know that there are a lot of your “followers” whom you don’t even know about. Thank you – from my patients, my students, and myself.
It’s amazing how time flies. It seems like just yesterday I was a first year fellow working in your clinic every week. In the beginning, it was a bit overwhelming. Patients with advanced functional disorders may be the most challenging and complicated patients in gastroenterology. They push the limits of our medical knowledge and often there is overlap with psychiatric principles. Being that there is no test to prove the presence of these conditions, it can be hard for patients to understand what is going on. The doctor needs to have a good bedside manner to obtain the history and explain the diagnosis. Unfortunately, most doctors don’t know where to start with these patients. In the beginning, I didn’t know where to start with these patients. But with your help, I got there.
Now that I’m (finally) graduating, I just want you to know that working with you was one of the highlights of my 8 years of medical training. I learned a ton about bedside manner, dealing with difficult patients, using psychology as a tool to enhance treatment, explaining things that are difficult to explain, pharmacologic approaches for functional disorders… The list goes on. Being that nearly half of my patients going forward will have these conditions, these were invaluable tools to learn. I just want to say that I hope you know how much I’ve appreciated my experience and interactions with you.
Thanks again for being a positive influence and making a difference in my training.
William J. Bulsiewicz, MD MSCI
UNC Gastroenterology Fellowship Graduate
The Center for Digestive and Liver Health
William J. Bulsiewicz, MD MSCI
The Center for Digestive and Liver Health
“From the most exhaustive and thoughtful diagnostic process to insightful caring execution Doug Drossman is simply a superb professional. He is more Netflix than Blockbuster, Apple than Dell and Uber than Yellow Top cabs, in that patient satisfaction and results are paramount. I refer all my friends plagued with tummy problems”.
Nigel Morris ,Patient
I cannot overstate how Dr. Drossman’s care and expertise in the field of functional pain has literally saved my life. I have seen a myriad of doctors throughout the years and have been in multiple pain centers around the country. I have been given over 40 different prescription medications throughout the years. And not one doctor has REALLY understood that I have been suffering with functional pain, which is very different than structural problems resulting in pain. Dr. Drossman and his team understand functional pain better than anyone else in the world. I followed his recommendations and medicinal therapy and now I am doing significantly better. I feel like I have my life back after all these years. I can finally play with the kids without suffering from significant pain.