Doctor Spotlight 2014: Jim Walsh, MD

Addiction medicine specialist Jim Walsh, M.D., at Swedish Medical Center Ballard campus, photographed on May 14, 2014

Specialty: Addiction Medicine
Hospital affiliation: Swedish Medical Center

Why did you choose addiction medicine as your specialty?
I trained to be a primary care provider working with underserved patients in community health centers. I did that work for seven years and really loved it, but we saw a lot of families affected by addiction problems, and I didn’t feel like we had a way to help those families. When Swedish started its Addiction Medicine fellowship program, it gave me an opportunity to learn what a doctor could do to help.  

Why did you begin to work with addicted pregnant women, in particular?
Caring for pregnant women with addiction problems has always been part of the service of the Swedish program. After finishing the addiction fellowship, I felt I didn’t have enough obstetrical expertise, so I signed up for the high-risk pregnancy fellowship also offered here. This has allowed me to create a bridge between the addiction treatment world and the amazing high-caliber OB services at Swedish.

Have you had an experience that convinced you that you made the right choice?
Every day. At the hospital or our clinic I see patients who feel pretty beat down, worried that there isn’t any help for them or that the medical system will treat them poorly. It is such a privilege to help people begin their journey to recovery. Working with a pregnant mother to have a healthy baby and to change her life so that she can remain sober and parent her child is incredibly rewarding.

What would you say is the public’s biggest misconception about addiction?  

People think that they have to do it “on their own.” We know that in order to successfully deal with addiction, people need to reach out for the support and accountability available through family, recovery meetings, treatment programs or sometimes medical treatment. Opening to outside help is a strength, not a weakness.
What’s the one lesson you wish your patients would take to heart?

Let people know what you are struggling with. Keeping secrets keeps people trapped in their illness. There are lots of different ways to get sober, but it always starts with telling someone. It could be a family member, a friend, a pastor or a physician. When someone begins that conversation, good things start to happen.