What’s Up Doc: Doctor Alex Etienne, Addiction Medicine

We talked to several of Rhode Island's 237 Top Doctors on why they chose medicine as a career and how, to them, it's more than a job.

We talked to several of Rhode Island’s 237 Top Doctors on why they chose medicine as a career and how, to them, it’s more than a job. Meet Doctor Alex Etienne, Addiction Medicine.

Photograph by Alex Gagne.

Doctor: Dr. Alex Etienne

Specialty: Addiction Medicine

Hospital Affiliations: RW

 

Why did you choose medicine as a career?

I can remember as far back as when I grew up in Haiti that my uncle was a physician in the States and he was one of my heroes. I liked to see what he did, but it was my personal experiences that made me want to become a doctor, too. Growing up in Haiti the healthcare system and the impact that I saw doctors have on people’s lives is what was an attraction to me.

 

Why did you choose your particular specialty?

This specialty truly chose me, so to speak. It was the training I did at my residence at a hospital and I was hired to stay as a medical consultant. I started working in the field of addiction when I was Chief Medical resident and everybody decided to leave after I was hired. They couldn’t find any replacement. They asked me whether I wanted to do it and I said yes but I never thought that I would be doing it ten years later. The enjoyment and the reward of being stopped by a patient telling me, “Dr. Etienne you don’t remember me? You saved my life!” that is just so fulfilling. Usually when you do addiction medicine, the results in terms of what we define our success are not that high. When you realize that there are people who you are saving from dying or destroying their lives, well, that is rewarding. The other thing is that it gave me the opportunity to keep patients engaged in their health care because addicts don’t usually take care of themselves.

 

How did you learn to connect with your patients and what they’re going through?

Well I can relate to patients really easily because of my background and my culture – [the people of Haiti] are really disadvantaged and there is a lack of resources. I was exposed to it all of my life and I know what it is like when people don’t have resources they need. My own personal experience(s) have also helped me to understand how they feel.

 

What are your other interests? What do you do for fun?

I like to go to the movies and spend time with my family. I’m kind of a couch potato so most of the time I read and stay current on what is new. Having my two sons and going out brings me fulfillment, but the truth is I constantly feel like I am working. I have to take a step back because I don’t want to succeed in medicine and fail life.

 

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