Internal Medicine Associate Professor Ingrid Binswanger, MD, MPH received her medical training at the University of California, Berkeley/University of California San Francisco Joint Medical Program. She completed her residency at UCSF and completed fellowship in the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Washington before joining the University of Colorado in 2006. Currently she is Director of the Primary Care Research Fellowship and the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research (PCOR) Scholars Program.
1. How did you become interested in science and medicine?
I became interested in science and medicine as early as high school. It was the midst of the HIV epidemic in the U.S., which involved a lot of complicated social, political and scientific issues. I was specifically interested in topics at the intersection of science, medicine, and society. So, in college, I majored in Biology and obtained a concentration in women’s studies. I also worked as a research assistant on several projects that spurred my interest in research.
2. What interested you in the career path you have chosen (Academia)?
Academic medicine can give you the independence to pursue the topics and research you are most passionate about. I have been privileged to be able to study areas which have not received a lot of attention, such as health outcomes in people who interact with the criminal justice system, often due to addiction. In addition, in academic medicine, I have the opportunity to collaborate with scholars in a wide range of disciplines, such as sociology, public health, and law.
3. Is there a teacher or mentor who helped shape your career?
I have had a number of amazing teachers and mentors. One of the most influential was Thomas Koepsell, MD, MPH, an epidemiologist who recently retired from the University of Washington. In fellowship, we called him “the oracle.” I saved every single email I received from him, as those emails were incredibly thoughtful, clear and informative. John Steiner, MD, MPH, has mentored me since I joined the faculty here. While his own research focus is different than mine, his broader perspective and ability to listen and ask insightful questions have been incredibly valuable to me.
4. How would you describe your interests?
My focus is now is on how we prevent overdose from prescription opioids. We’ve recently seen more deaths from overdose than motor vehicle fatalities in the U.S. Colorado is also the state with the second highest proportion of people reporting nonmedical opioid use. I am working on how we may be able to prevent these complex problems through interventions in the clinical setting with providers and patients, with parents, and in the community. As a medical school, it is also important that we better prepare our students going forward with the tools they need to prevent and manage the complications of opioid use.
5. Why did you choose the University of Colorado?
The research culture here is collaborative. The interdisciplinary collaboration is well suited to my field of interest. There is good connectivity with the Colorado School of Public Health and Denver Health, and that has been helpful for my research. I also came here because Jean Kutner, MD, MPSH, my division head, was attuned to the needs of junior investigators and provided the support I needed for the transition from being a fellow to becoming a faculty researcher.
6. What kinds of professional opportunities or advantages does being a faculty member at an academic medical center provide?
As an academic physician and researcher, you are afforded a level of respect for your knowledge and expertise and can contribute meaningfully to the broader community. You can contribute expertise to address health and healthcare issues that impact the community locally and nationally. I find this very rewarding.
7. If you could change one thing about the world of medicine what would it be?
I believe we have a lot more to learn from patients and advocates in specific areas of health. There are advances and approaches to improve health that are being used in certain communities that can be translated back to the clinic. I call this “reverse translation.” For opioid overdose, for instance, small community-based organizations are providing naloxone, which is an opioid antidote, to people with opioid addiction to use in the event of an overdose. We are currently studying how to apply this intervention in the clinical setting to patients with pain, who may also be at risk for overdose.
8. What do you see as ”the future” of medicine?
The biggest challenge for medicine is to address the tension between reimbursement and evidence-based, preventive interventions and care. Since these are not properly aligned, it is more difficult to improve population health in a systematic way.
9. What are some of your outside interests?
I have two children, ages 9 and 5. We like to travel as a family. We went to India last year, where I also lived as child. My father is Swiss and my mother is French and I have extended family in both countries who I enjoy visiting when I can.