Dr. Meredith Adams Brings Diverse Research Expertise to the IARS Board

MARCH 31, 2023

Meredith Adams, MD, MS, FASA, FAMIA, compares her career journey as an anesthesiologist and researcher to that of entering a cooking show competition. At each point in her career, she has entered a new “kitchen” and made a new recipe, adding ingredients from each failure, success and experience along the way. An Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, Biomedical Informatics, and Public Health Sciences at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Dr. Adams has willingly embraced the unexpected and approached each opportunity with a palpable zeal and determination for discovery. Now, the latest ingredient she is adding to her career recipe, is becoming one of the newest members of the IARS Board of Trustees. She aspires to bring her passion, depth of knowledge and diverse experiences to the position and amplify the vision of IARS to advance and support education and scientific discovery in anesthesiology and beyond.

Dr. Meredith Adams

Meredith Adams, MD, MS, FASA, FAMIA

When approached to join the IARS Board of Trustees, Dr. Adams jumped at the opportunity to join the diverse group of dedicated anesthesiologists, thrilled to learn from and build upon the wide range of expertise already possessed in the group. “They are people who really in their heart of hearts want good things for anesthesiology and want to think about how we can build systems to support the field, which is something that I’m very passionate about,” she reflected. “Everyone does different things in different places, but, being aligned on the vision is the really important part.” She was pleased to be invited to be into the IARS “kitchen” and hopes to add her unique value and perspective.

Hard work and determination were the integral ingredients that brought her to her current role at Wake Forest University School of Medicine and helped her to become the only NIH-funded researcher who is board certified in anesthesiology, pain medicine and clinical informatics with a current NIH PI portfolio of more than $16 million. Her pain and opioid informatics research portfolio is substantive, including economic analysis, development of machine learning and artificial intelligence tools, data infrastructure support, data visualization and health equity.

Additionally, her investigations have led her to develop a pain and opioids data infrastructure support center (HEAL NIDA U24), supported by a cooperative grant with a focus on the economic impact of COVID-19 and Long Covid (HEAL NIDA U01), and a NIDA HEAL Network IMPOWR (R24) coordination center with several administrative supplements. “We’re part of a cooperative that is looking at the impact of COVID-19 on different aspects of health, and our project specifically is focused on opioid use disorder. So, we’re actually looking at half the US,” Dr. Adams explained. “Then, my most recent grant is focused on building data infrastructure support for another clinical trials network that is looking at transforming public health data to practice.” That project is combining public health data with HR data, ranging from maternal health to overdose fatality, and her team is reviewing different combinations of chronic pain and opioid use disorder.

Not to leave any seconds of her day unfilled, Dr. Adams also serves on Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Deans’ and Health Equity Search Committee and Chairs the Faculty Development Subcommittee on Clinician Researchers. Nationally, she contributes to committees for the American Society of Anesthesiology, American Academy of Pain Medicine, and American Society of Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine. Dr. Adams also is participating in several subprojects with machine learning and AI to develop tools to continue to support her other projects. Her passion for creating systems and teams to optimize each process expands far beyond her own research. “We have a PR problem with research in general, because people think of it as a binary like ‘I’m a researcher or I’m not a researcher.’ In my mind, little kids are researchers. People put all these sort of living beliefs and barriers in terms of what officially makes you a researcher,” she relayed. “I was a researcher before I was funded. Now I just do more paperwork to make it happen.”

Her path to this point has proved to be both surprising and rewarding. On entering undergraduate school, she knew she wanted to be a physician, but, she didn’t want to spend her college years only focused on that end point. So, she chose a nontraditional topic to start her education – Classical Studies, primarily focused on ancient history and archaeology. She reflects on how this unusual start has actually influenced her work today, “It has greatly informed what I do day-to-day in terms of language and breaking it down for all the machine learning and natural language processing,” she shared. Later, as a third-year resident at Johns Hopkins Medical School, an experience during a rotation at an international lab in Denmark sparked her research interest. Ideas generated there were nothing like her previous work environments. She returned home very motivated to figure out how she could participate in that type of science.

To develop the necessary expertise, she enrolled in certificate programs for the science of clinical investigation, storytelling with data, and medical writing and editing. Along her path, some of the long list of professional development ingredients she has added to her skill set has included the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Early Career Women Faculty Development Scholar and Leadership Development Seminar for Women Faculty in Medicine and Science, National Center for Faculty Development & Diversity Faculty Success Program, Harvard Medical School’s Career Development and Leadership Skills for Women in Healthcare, NIH NIBIB Mentored Clinician Scientist (K08) grant, a FAER Mentored Research in Education grant, and an EPIC Physician Builder Certification. Additionally, she focused on completing the necessary steps to reach faculty status so she would be able to have protected time for research.

In her first four years as a faculty member, she was working with existing data sets and realized she wasn’t able to get what she needed from them. It was not until she was recruited to the Medical College of Wisconsin that she discovered the solution by way of a supportive mentor. He told her if she could get the funding, he would support her in whatever she chose to pursue. “That was amazing. He said just go for it,” Dr. Adams remembered. “It evolved from there, and I realized that a lot of what I needed was in the electronic health records. But I couldn’t crack into that without more skills.”

True to character, she went right out and developed those skills as well, and also sought talented partners who were adept in areas where she had gaps. Like with the rest of her journey, she did not look in the usual places for collaborators. “One of the nicest and kindest collaborators I found was actually in the cancer center. He was in informatics there,” she shared. He encouraged her to pursue funding through the National Institute of Health (NIH), National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) which proved to be the initial step to catapult her to her current research endeavors. After seven not-discussed RO1-level grant applications, a program officer at NIH NIDA took a chance on her and granted her an R21 to investigate their research focused on “Nudging Primary Care Providers Toward Guideline-Recommended Opioid Prescribing Through Easier and More Convenient EHR Information Design.” Dr. Adams has been cooking ever since, discovering research opportunities which she could not have predicted at the beginning of her journey.

It was support from unlikely mentors that nurtured her passion for expanding the academic research pipeline, reinforcing the importance of engaged mentors and valuable collaborators to expand one’s research and career goals. “One of the key things is having different mentors that do different components of a mentorship. It is really important to have a distributed model of mentorship,” she explained. Dr. Adams has previously served and mentored as the AAPM Fellowship Excellence Award winning Pain Medicine Fellowship Adult and Pediatric Pain Program Director and currently speaks and publishes on expanding the academic research pipeline and diversity, equity and inclusion.

Engaging and aiding trainees in their transition to junior faculty is another area where Dr. Adams would like to help fill the gap. “I don’t really know the best path forward, and obviously a lot of great minds have been thinking on this problem,” she said. “For myself, figuring out how we can bring more people along is really something that I’m passionate about.” Dr. Adams hopes to make progress on resolving that problem through her role as an IARS Trustee, building an inclusive anesthesiology community that welcomes every perspective and every shape of researcher. She concluded, “For the specialty moving forward, it involves combining and pulling in all those elements that anesthesiology has, all these little tendrils and places for it to exist so that it thrives and builds moving forward.”