Doug Burgess, MD
TMC Behavioral Health - Recovery Health Services
Outside of a spouse, perhaps, few people will have relationships that are as intimate as the one they’ll have with their physician—someone who is likely to see you at your most vulnerable. That goes double for the relationship between patient and psychiatrist. Doug Burgess knows all about that. “I was drawn to psychiatry because people trust you with some of their most intimate stories, including the family dynamics,” says Burgess. “You are part of the most formative things that happen in their lives, things they often share with you and nobody else. It’s amazing to me—and maybe even more amazing because it was not something I set out to do.”
The medical director for TMC’s outpatient psychiatry services is a St. Louis native who found his path to medicine early, thanks to a pediatrician who was “funny and engaging,” Burgess recalls. But thoughts of a career in pediatrics and later, orthopedics, yielded to psychiatry. “I enjoyed the challenge of having to approach patients differently,” he says. “And I really enjoyed it because it was one of the few fields where you have real time to spend with patients.”
While he’s at the tip of the spear in a near-epidemic level of opioid abuse, Burgess knows that those drugs run a distant second to society’s biggest substance challenge—alcohol. Irrespective of the substance, his time in the field has vastly reshaped his attitudes and understanding of what constitutes victimhood.
“As in intern in the emergency department, I would get frustrated with patients who would come in with alcohol or drug issues—I felt like this was the result of a choice, and these people were taking a bed that someone really sick needed,” he says.
But working with those patients “opened my eyes, because I saw people over time, people engaged in effective treatments, and I got to see them get better. Once they could get through the initial phases of the addiction and get into treatment, they had the same values I had—they valued family, work, relationships. They had an illness and needed treatment. It opened my eyes and changed my career path.”