Pubdate: Wed, 10 Sep 2014
Source: Phoenix New Times (AZ)
Copyright: 2014 New Times, Inc.
Author: Ray Stern


A High Profile Marijuana Researcher into Pot and PTSD Loses Her Job 
After the U of A's Pressured Politically to Shut Her Up

Sue Sisley, M.D., is nearly blind. She can't see out of her left eye 
and has minimal vision in her right, resulting from amblyopia, a 
condition she's had since birth. Her remaining eyesight "doesn't seem 
to be deteriorating further," she says. But in recent months, 
Sisley's been trying to train Penny, a rescue dog from the Humane 
Society, for her potentially to use someday. It's not really working 
out. Cute but undisciplined, Penny -- wearing a blue vest -- greets a 
visitor excitedly at the Arizona Telemedicine Program's Phoenix office.

On this Tuesday afternoon, 45-year-old Sisley is the only person 
working in the facility. She's got back-to-back video meetings with 
patients but takes a break to meet with a reporter, after a 
weeks-long stampede of attention from the news media.

Sisley's served on the telemedicine program's executive committee as 
associate director of interprofessional education, a part-time 
position, since 2007. The facility, in a wing of the University of 
Arizona's Phoenix campus at 550 East Van Buren, is one of the 
regional hubs for the high-tech program and one of the most highly 
touted divisions of the Tucson-based university's College of 
Medicine. From the center, as with other hubs in Flagstaff and 
Tucson, physicians such as Sisley consult with patients using video 
cameras and such high-tech instruments as digital stethoscopes, and 
they conduct various doctor-education programs.

Using equipment at the facility and at her Scottsdale home, she's one 
of the most prolific "virtual" doctors in the program, conducting 
thousands of patient consultations yearly in her part-time U of A job 
and private telemedicine practice. It's a good match for her because 
it limits how much driving she has to do. She treats many rural 
mentally ill patients, some of whom have conditions that make them 
fearful of leaving their homes. She's won accolades for her work from 
patients and from her bosses at the U of A. Yet at 5 p.m. on June 27, 
she was told in an e-mailed letter from the university that her 
contract wouldn't be renewed and that she had until September 29 to 
vacate the Phoenix facility.

A July 9 follow-up letter from Joe "Skip" Garcia, senior vice 
president of health services for the College of Medicine, and Stuart 
Flynn, her direct boss and dean of the College of Medicine's Phoenix 
branch, informed her that a "strategic decision" regarding the 
structure of the telemedicine program contributed to the non-renewal 
of her contract.

The letter also mentioned that her U of A role as coordinator for a 
physician-education program on medical marijuana no longer would be 
funded by a state grant; therefore, she no longer could be supported 
in the position -- even though the three-year program was in its 
first year, with two-thirds of its money still in the bank.

No one outside the U of A knows for sure why Sisley was fired, not 
even Sisley. The university's refused to release details or records 
that would expose what really happened, citing employment guidelines.

The apparent problem was her intense focus on medical cannabis and 
her quest to launch an unprecedented, scientifically sound study on 
the effects of marijuana on veterans who suffer from post-traumatic 
stress disorder. "I'm focused squarely on how we can get this vets 
research under way," she says. "That consumes me from the minute I 
wake up . . . I don't even understand why it's controversial.

Probably because [the medicine's] not pills -- it's green and leafy."

Sisley stands at above-average height and has distinctive black, 
curly hair that falls below her shoulders. Her energy level is 
infectious. She's a habitual hugger with a warm personality and a 
mind that seems ready to race off in any direction. She's passionate 
about not only marijuana but about her other medical projects and her 
involvement in the arts community.

Unmarried and childless, she's devoted enormous time to helping 
children, winning awards and presidential commendations for her work 
with arts projects for at-risk kids. And she can be eccentric, as 
evidenced by a video on her YouTube channel featuring her dancing in 
an outlandish costume in support of the Phoenix Suns. Her extreme 
interest in cannabis, combined with her offbeat, driven personality, 
makes her sound similar to hippie-esque pot advocates who arm 
themselves with scientific-sounding jargon.

But she's no hippie.

Sisley's a lifelong Republican who says she's never tried marijuana, 
in any form. While in her medical-residency program, she was awarded 
a grant to produce a play, Think It Through Revue, which promoted 
sexual abstinence for teens. It was performed at "numerous middle 
schools, churches, and community events throughout Arizona," 
according to the March 17, 1999, issue of the Journal of the American 
Medical Association.

Sisley completed her undergraduate work at Northern Arizona 
University before moving on to the U of A to get her medical degree. 
She completed a five-year residency in 2000, specializing in 
psychiatry and internal medicine. She was in private practice in the 
Valley for several years with her mother, also an M.D.

Sisley has another major interest: politics.

She drafts and lobbies for legislation, openly supports or opposes 
candidates and issues, and last year tried to run a political-action 
committee. She campaigned for the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act 
before it was approved narrowly by voters in November 2010. Her 
typing skills can be measured in e-mails per hour, and her verbal and 
organizational acumen rival that of silver-tongued elected officials. 
She has a huge list of contacts in Arizona to lean on for support -- 
or to harangue and criticize.

"That's what I do all day -- call electeds and harass them," she says 
with a grin, half-kidding. After all, she also manages to conduct all 
those consultations.

In retrospect, it probably was inevitable that her obsessions with 
medical marijuana and politics would dovetail -- and get her into 
trouble at work.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom