AASLD Foundation’s Advanced/Transplant Hepatology Fellowship came along at a pivotal moment in David M. Fettig, MD’s career as an internist and gastroenterologist – a time when he needed support to pursue advanced, specific training in liver disease. Now, Dr. Fettig is using that expertise and knowledge to benefit liver patients who don’t often have access to specialty care.
“I work with an incredible group of providers at Birmingham Gastroenterology in Alabama, says Dr. Fettig of his work. “I’d always wanted to work in liver disease in some capacity, but I’d assumed that I would work at either a university hospital or liver transplant center. I eventually realized that my career would not take me in that direction, but instead, to be a community gastroenterologist who focuses on liver disease.”
Dr. Fettig ultimately wanted to go out into the community — to smaller, rural towns throughout Alabama where there are no liver specialists — and see liver transplant patients, people with HCV, fatty liver disease and other conditions. “I thought that I could make a positive impact by treating these patients right in their own communities,” he says.
There is one transplant center in Birmingham, at the University of Alabama Birmingham, and Dr. Fettig serves in a voluntary faculty position there. In his practice, he has created a hepatitis-C clinic that he dedicates one half-day to seeing HCV patients only.
Ultimately, access to care is a passion for Dr. Fettig. “I wanted to develop this traveling clinic, but I knew that I would need 12 months of advanced training in transplant hepatology. My longtime mentors at UAB, Brendan McGuire, MD, and Joe Bloomer, MD, both urged me to apply for the Foundation’s 2016 fellowship. Fortunately, I was selected to receive the $60,000 award to pursue the training. I spent one full day a week in UAB’s post-transplant clinic, learning from the experts in infectious diseases and surgical complications. During the other four days of the week, I rotated among other UAB Hepatology clinics, diving deeply into all aspects of liver disease, from HCV to porphyria. I was even given my own liver transplant clinic to care for patients who identified me as their primary hepatologist, not just an attending. I discovered how grateful post-transplant patients are for the gift of a donated organ,” he says of the experience.
Today, Dr. Fettig offers clinics in small communities throughout Alabama once a month. “With the advanced training and in-depth knowledge I received through my AASLD Foundation fellowship, I’m able to get into the trenches and help primary care physicians treat these patients. These doctors see all kinds of liver disease patients, but rarely have the kind of specialized hepatology care I can provide,” he says.
Being an AASLD Foundation Advanced/Transplant Hepatology Fellow changed the trajectory of what Dr. Fettig could achieve as a physician. “This was a unique opportunity for me to increase access to liver care to more patients in Alabama,” he says. “These fellowships enable early-career physicians to acquire the extra training and knowledge necessary to practice medicine in ways that nobody else has tried. AASLD Foundation believes in what we are doing.”