This article was originally featured in the Brigham Heart & Science newsletter.
Rosa Ramos, LPN, is passionate about caring for patients with opioid use disorder at Brookside Community Health Center, where she has worked for three years. With her depth of experience and dedication to reducing the stigma surrounding opioid use disorder, she is a strong advocate for her patients at Brookside and anyone who is suffering from addiction.
She spoke with Brigham Heart & Science about her role and what everyone should know about patients battling opioid use disorder.
What drew you to a career in nursing?
RR: When I was working as a case manager at a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, a patient told a story during our group therapy session about a nurse who cared for her while she was going through withdrawal. The nurse hugged her and gave her emotional support that made a big difference to this patient. Her story stayed with me, and I wanted to go into nursing to help people suffering from addiction physically, emotionally and with medication-assisted treatment. After obtaining my LPN, I worked in a methadone clinic before I came to Brookside, and I was excited to learn about the opportunity to work in the Suboxone program within Primary Care.
What makes you passionate about caring for patients with opioid use disorder?
RR: I want to help this patient population. There’s not much awareness about their disorder, and there is a stigma toward these patients. People also question whether opioid use disorder is a disease or a choice. I believe in meeting people where they are. I want my patients to feel comfortable and know that we are working to raise awareness about addiction and to get the word out about available treatment.
You mentioned the question of a disease versus a choice. What should people know about opioid use disorder?
RR: Consider it as you would any other chronic illness. If we had a diabetes patient who didn’t control their A1C for a month, or a hypertension patient who didn’t take their medication, we would still care for them and help them get back on track. Patients with opioid use disorder are just like any other patient who needs our help and support in dealing with a chronic illness.
Describe your work with the Suboxone program.
RR: We have about 45 patients in the program and three physicians who prescribe Suboxone. Patients have regular appointments with their doctor and a weekly or monthly visit with me. We go over what’s working or not working with their care plan and any concerns they might have. I also refer them to a mental health counselor as needed.
How do you approach a patient you are meeting for the first time?
RR: I sit down with my patients, ask them why they are seeking treatment now and what they have done in the past so we can determine what hasn’t worked. I also encourage them to be honest with me. I tell them I am not going to judge them, but I need them to be truthful if they relapse. That way, we can talk about what may have triggered it and how to move forward.
What else would you tell people about these patients?
RR: I hope people will keep an open mind. We have unbelievably wonderful patients who are well-educated and suffering from this disorder. People tend to have a certain perception about who these patients are, and the truth is that they’re just like everyone else.
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