abigail amy annan, md, faafp

Why did you pursue obesity medicine certification?
The ABOM certification provides validation of knowledge in obesity medicine. It also commands the respect and recognition attributed to being boarded in any field of medicine.

Many doctors have told us about the “aha” moment that stimulated their interest in obesity medicine. Do you have an obesity medicine “aha” moment that sticks out in your memory?
I find successful weight loss stories exciting. I am inspired by the decision to initiate the weight loss journey, the determination to succeed and the joy of acquiring the intended prize. I attempted to support patients to reach healthier weights during my residency training but was only mildly successful. My quest for more knowledge in this field led me to discover the ABOM and I knew that this was to be my niche.

How do you currently incorporate your obesity medicine training into your practice?
Within a few days of passing the ABOM board certification, I embarked on the task of establishing a weight loss clinic. My mission was primarily to address the glaring need in the community and also for the purpose of teaching learners – residents, medical students and nurse practitioners. I direct this clinic as a sub-specialty clinic to which patients are referred for medically managed weight loss. The clinic also serves as an elective rotation for the residents. It has experienced rapid growth and has been successful, overall, in supporting patients to reach their weight and health goals.

Why do you believe obesity medicine certification is valuable?
The education and knowledge required to take the certification is the greatest value. Through the preparation process, I came to understand the science of obesity. I have subsequently developed my own art of practice.

What is the biggest challenge you face in your practice?
Misconceptions about FDA approved weight loss medications have been my greatest challenge. I educate patients daily on the role of weight loss medications as a tool to support their efforts, not a magic wand. I have also had challenges with pharmacists who are unfamiliar with these medications and despite evidence to the contrary, consider them equivalent to cocaine!

What has been your greatest achievement so far?
The opportunity to teach and incorporate obesity and nutritional medicine into the curriculum of medical students and family medicine residents at Western Michigan University Homer Stryker School of Medicine (WMED) has been my greatest fulfillment. Prior to joining the faculty of the WMED Family and Community Medicine department, obesity medicine was unknown to the institution as a sub-specialty. I have had the privilege of planting the seeds of interest and the additional opportunity to guide and support the growth of the residents in this field. I have been challenged to grow and expand my knowledge through this endeavor.

The establishment of the WMED Weight Loss Clinic has also been quite an accomplishment, against all odds. It has been almost two years of progressive remodeling of the medically supported weight loss program which has yielded several success stories. Patients have experienced an average of 15 lbs weight loss within the first 3 months of initiation of the weight loss program and 25 lbs by the sixth month.

Employees of the Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in which the clinic is based have experienced the most benefit in the past year. The best part of my day is receiving hugs from patients and support staff in the hallways and being updated on the progress of their weight loss journey.

What do you wish other physicians knew about treating obesity?
Obesity medicine is a very individualized field. A comprehensive understanding of the pathophysiology of this disease is beneficial. However, compassion and empathy are key components in developing the skill to establish rapport with patients in order to gain insight into their challenges. Weight loss is a lifelong journey, with no quick fixes and requires a long-term commitment to patients in order to be successful.

Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience with obesity medicine?
The decision to support patients to reach their goal weight requires a personal investment. I have learned the wisdom in roping in the whole nuclear family when moms enroll in my weight loss program. I have encouraged parents to prepare the same meals for the entire family rather than allowing the children to eat foods that led them down their current path of excess weight.

I took counsel from Dr. Aggrey’s statement, ’when you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a nation.’

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