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February 22, 2023

UW Health adds innovative physician training program for headache management

Dr. Jeffrey Royce, program director for the Headache Medicine Fellowship Program of the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford, and Dr. Sarah Robertson.
Dr. Jeffrey Royce, headache medicine fellowship program director, and Dr. Sarah Robertson — the first physician to join the fellowship.

Madison, Wis. – Millions of people in the United States suffer from headaches and migraines, and UW Health is looking to help these patients with more specialty trained providers.

Recently, UW Health in Northern Illinois launched the Headache Medicine Fellowship Program in partnership with the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford to train doctors specifically in treating patients with headache disorders.

About 36 million people in the United States suffer from migraines, and about 9 percent of them are chronic, with many going undiagnosed, according to Dr. Jeffrey Royce, headache specialist, UW Health, and program director for the Headache Medicine Fellowship Program of the University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford.

“This fellowship is helping us confront an unmet need to get more specialty-trained physicians into the workforce to diagnose and treat these people so nobody has to suffer if they can be treated,” he said.

What differentiates this program from the few headache fellowships currently available in Illinois and Wisconsin is whom it is intended to educate, Royce said.

“This program is not intended to only train neurologists or pain specialists, but physicians in any specialty that intersects with headache treatment,” he said.

In fact, the fellowship is accredited in association with University of Illinois College of Medicine Rockford’s Family Medicine Residency Program.

Indeed, Dr. Sarah Robertson, a primary care physician at UW Health, is the first physician to join the fellowship. She recently completed a family medicine residency and jumped at the chance to apply for the fellowship, which began in August.

“Different specialties bring different perspectives to caring for patients with migraines, and I think that is something that really sets this program apart,” she said.

The one-year fellowship will accept one applicant for comprehensive training that includes the clinical, research and social aspects pertinent to the treatment of people with headache disorders.

In the program, fellows learn to apply the latest techniques such as nerve blocks and Botox treatments, in addition to understanding the use of appropriate medication regimens and complementary therapies such as exercise, physical therapy and biofeedback. Fellows also learn from other specialists who treat and diagnose those with head pain disorders, like allergists, physical therapists and ophthalmologists, among several others.

The decision to apply for the fellowship was a personal one, according to Robertson.

For years, a family member struggled with migraines and had to miss family functions, she said.

“I could just see the pain and suffering this person was going through, but even as a medical student I felt like I couldn’t help my family member; I just didn’t know enough about headaches,” she said. “Once I got into residency, I met with so many patients with migraines or headaches and saw just how much it impacted them, and it really motivated me to learn more about how to help them.”