SHERIDAN — Dr. Jason Ackerman didn’t set out to become a medical professional. Unlike some of his colleagues who seemingly knew their career at a young age, Ackerman took a little while to find his passion.
After graduating from Sheridan High School, Ackerman studied economics and Spanish in college. However, he had an inkling to attend medical school.
After three years as an economic consultant in Portland, Ackerman went back on the track for medical school. He took two years of courses at Portland State before being accepted to the University of Washington School of Medicine. He returned to Sheridan in 2013 with his wife, Dr. Julie Ackerman, with whom he has twin 4-year-old boys.
TSP: If there is such a thing as an average week, can you take me through what that looks like?
JA: It varies quite a bit … I split my time between doing addiction medicine and running a suboxone program and just general internal medicine. That’s kind of primary care, kind of taking care of more complicated adults. I run the gamut from relatively healthy checkups with people in their 20s and 30s to very sick people in their 90s on a ton of medications. My main area of interest is the suboxone and addiction medicine.
TSP: What exactly is suboxone?
JA: It’s a medication used to treat opioid addiction. It’s an interesting medication. … I always tell my patients instead of actually hitting the receptors like heroin or oxycodone or something and turning them all the way on or off, it’s more like a dimmer switch, and so it keeps people from having all of the cravings … People can’t really get high on it, they can’t overdose, so it’s a very cool thing … I think it’s probably the most rewarding field of anything I do.
TSP: Why is that?
JA: The majority (of patients) are younger people, and you have the opportunity to really give them their lives back … You can take people that have absolutely nothing and just get them back to functioning, back to normal, and it’s amazing to see.
TSP: What was the thing that made you finally want to go to med school?
JA: I think it was just one day I realized I was not cut out for the business consulting world. I just got frustrated by things and didn’t feel like I was actually helping people very much.
TSP: Did you know the general area you wanted to go into (in medical school)?
JA: No, actually I didn’t have a clue. Nobody in my family is in medicine or a doctor, so I didn’t have much of an idea … I thought the only thing that I did not want to do was internal medicine, but that was my first rotation and I absolutely fell in love with it … In medicine there ends up being kind of a lot of uncertainty, and it’s really one of the most cerebral fields. It’s all about solving puzzles and trying to diagnose things. I wasn’t sure I would like that, and ultimately that’s what I found out I loved.
TSP: What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
JA: You’re seeing people when they’re at their absolute worst, whether it’s the addiction and they are at absolute bottom and unemployed and homeless and recently divorced, or whether it’s the general internal medicine and you are seeing the person you just diagnosed with cancer or heart failure. So you’re seeing people at their absolute worst, and that can be hard, but that’s kind of also I think why most internists like doing what they’re doing, is you can be there for those people.
… (We are) trying to destigmatize the whole addiction thing … A lot of people just feel like it’s their fault and they’re screw-ups, and then the community ends up having those thoughts, too, and I think it’s … something that, here, it hasn’t been out in the open very long, so just kind of trying to improve that stigma is what lets people get into treatment and makes a huge difference … True addiction, at least the using part of it, is truly out of their control. If they could stop, they would. That’s kind of the nature of addiction, so it’s been really cool to see so many people just turn it around.
TSP: In your job, what’s the most important trait or skill to have?
JA: To just be able to listen. It’s always about solving puzzles, but most of the time if you let the patient just talk, they’ll tell you what’s wrong, and I think that’s something that a lot of us struggle with. I certainly struggle with it. You kind of have that instinct to, as soon as somebody’s finished with a question or an answer, to jump right back in … If you just let people talk and let those silences linger, people will start telling you all sorts of stuff.