Clinician. Educator. Researcher. Inspiration.
For more than four decades, David W. Hartman, MD, the 2019 NCAD Champion Award winner, has been a difference maker in the field of addiction medicine. His list of career accomplishments would be a point of pride for any practitioner, but for Hartman, the list is historic: He has been totally blind since he was 8 years old.
Hartman was diagnosed with glaucoma at age 6, and detached retinas at age 8 left him blind permanently. Growing up, Hartman dreamed of going to medical school, but says school administrators told his parents they needed to help their son “be more realistic.”
“But I was blessed to have parents who figured they weren’t about to tell me what I could or could not do,” Hartman says. “They wanted me to explore whatever career I wanted to try. Admittedly, in my last year of college, I was getting one rejection letter after another. I was starting to wonder. It wasn’t until June that I received my acceptance to the Temple University School of Medicine. Temple stepped up to the plate, and they were wonderful. They admitted me and gave me good support.”
Hartman’s venture into medical school at Temple made national headlines. He was featured in People magazine and The Washington Post. Hartman became the first blind person to graduate from a U.S. medical school, and he co-authored a book about his quest, “White Coat, White Cane: The Extraordinary Odyssey of a Blind Physician.” His story was adapted into a made-for-TV movie, “Journey From Darkness,” starring Marc Singer in 1975.
The NCAD Champion Award, with which Hartman is being presented this weekend at the National Conference on Addiction Disorders East in Baltimore, acknowledges exceptional/extraordinary performance and leadership by clinical and executive behavioral healthcare personnel within the addiction recovery field. Hartman, a board-certified psychiatrist and the chief of adult outpatient psychiatry at Carilion Clinic in Roanoke, Virginia, certainly qualifies.
Since 2016, he has doubled Carilion’s capacity for medication-assisted treatment in concert with Virginia’s Medicaid reforms. He has collaborated with OB/GYN doctors on staff to develop a MAT program for pregnant women. This year, he has developed a bridge program for emergency room patients who have overdosed or are experiencing withdrawal symptoms from opioids to be connected with Carilion’s addiction treatment services.
“What has been exciting is not only has it provided better care, but the emergency room doctors feel more positive about their work with opioid use disorder individuals,” Hartman says. “It has changed individuals, and people feel like, ‘Now I have something I can do for these individuals and provide support,’ and then I get a chance to see these patients in my clinic.”
Hartman thrives in group settings, whether it is leading the group therapy sessions that he loves, or moderating bi-weekly ECHO video conferencing sessions with other clinicians around the state with his wife, Cheri, PhD, who also serves as grant program director for Carilion’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health.
“I have to say, my wife and I are always inspired by the people who listen in, communicate and ask questions and contribute their ideas to these programs,” Hartman says. “That has been a really exciting practice.”
Earlier this year, Hartman also joined the Governor’s Advisory Commission on the Opioid Crisis, and he also serves as an associate professor at the Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine, training students and residents in addiction medicine.
Today, Hartman takes great pride and joy in being able to work alongside his wife Cheri at Carilion, and he is grateful for all of those along the way who have helped make his childhood dream a reality.
“Most important, I would stress that I’ve been fortunate to be with the right group of people,” Hartman says. “Getting into medical school never would have happened without the support of the faculty at Gettysburg, where I went for undergraduate, the Temple University School of Medicine, and now where I am here at Carilion Clinic. I feel very honored to be with a number of people who support my interests here at Carilion. There are some wonderful doctors I have had an opportunity to work with.”