Member Spotlight: Dr. Bob Sammons - Clinical TMS Society Committee Chair, Veteran, and BBQ Connoisseur

Dr. Bob Sammons is an officer and board director at the Clinical TMS Society. He has been practicing psychiatry for over thirty years in Grand Junction, Colorado, but prior to that has had a long and varied career in mental health. Over the years, he’s been fueled by a desire to keep learning and finding new ways to help people – along with a little skiing and competitive BBQ every now and then.

Dr. Sammons received his master’s degree from Auburn University and then served in the Air Force where he worked in psychology and helped to set up a major program focusing on treatment for Vietnam veterans with a history of opioid abuse. After working on this program, he left the Air Force to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Upon graduation, he moved to Colorado, where he has since become a native.

“I ran the mental health clinic in Glenwood Springs, [Colorado],” he says. “And I absolutely loved it. Loved being a psychologist – it was a lot of fun…but I found that whenever there were really difficult cases, ones that I couldn’t do much with, I always turned to psychiatrists,” Dr. Sammons says. “I’d like to be one of the guys that they turn to. So, I left the health clinic and all these wonderful ski areas, and I went to teach at East Carolina University where I took my pre-med prerequisites.” He then went to medical school at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and completed his residency in Virginia, and then moved to Grand Junction, Colorado.

“I always said that when you get your first doctorate, you understand a lot of what’s known…when you get your second doctorate, you know how much isn’t known,” Dr. Sammons says. “So, in spite of both degrees, like every other psychiatrist I had patients that would not get better either with medication or psychotherapy.” While reading about new therapies and treatments, he learned of TMS in the early to mid-2000s. “Continuing to try and get as many people better as possible, I followed the news…I saw that Harvard was running a course taught by Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone.” Dr. Sammons attended the week-long course in 2006. “The problem was, it was another two years before TMS was FDA approved, and then at that time the machines were very expensive, and insurance didn’t cover it.” Dr. Sammons explains that private pay would not work in a small, blue-collar town like Grand Junction, and so he decided not to buy a machine at that time. However, once Medicare and other insurance companies began to cover it, things changed.

In 2014 he went into partnership with an entrepreneurial friend, who had a background with the CIA and as a restaurateur, to open a private practice focused on TMS called TMS Solutions. Today they have 11 locations across Colorado, Utah, Idaho, and Washington with plans to continue expanding. Since his first training, Dr. Sammons completed additional TMS training with both Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone and Dr. Mark George. “I have been blessed to train and meet with the nicest, smartest, most dedicated folks,” Dr. Sammons says. He truly enjoys his work and has no plans to retire, despite how often people ask him. “When they ask, I say, why would I retire? This is the most fun I’ve had as a psychiatrist in a while...I always tell every patient twice, we still have a significant failure rate, but it’s so much better than the next antidepressant.”

Dr. Sammons passes along his knowledge by training residents in TMS at his clinics. “This is about the fifth year we’ve had residents training,” Dr. Sammons explains. In addition to giving back, he also wants to help spread the word about TMS. He’s aware of the difficulties of this, especially since TMS does not have the traditional promotional and marketing like pharmaceuticals do. However, with lectures and hands-on training he’s able to share the knowledge with his residents. “I enjoy sharing what so many other people shared with me. We need to train the next generation of psychiatrists to know about TMS. Although it’s just an introduction, they get to see it, they get to put their hands on it, and they get to talk to patients. [One of my] residents have already signed a contract with a California Kaiser group that is looking for TMS practitioners.”

About eight years ago, as he was becoming more involved in TMS, Dr. Sammons decided to join the Clinical TMS Society. He attended this first annual meeting and was immediately hooked. “It was wonderful,” he says. “It was fun…and I loved the scientific presentation. The next year I went, I met Kim Cress. Kim was so lovely and enthusiastic, and she asked me to be on a committee,” Dr. Sammons says. This is when he first joined the Outreach Committee. During his time on the committee, the outreach team created the first CMEs offered by the Society. “I think it’s one of the strengths of the society,” Dr. Sammons says. “I pay for student memberships for all my residents.” Dr. Sammons believes the CMEs are one of the most valuable benefits for Society members, especially those who may live in more isolated areas like himself. Dr. Sammons has since joined several other committees, including the Education Committee, the Legal, Business and Ethics Committee, and the Annual Meeting Committee.

“True story; I missed a meeting—I haven’t missed many, and certainly not after that!—and found out afterward I had been asked to be the committee chairman for the 2023 Annual Meeting, which is going to be in Colorado,” Dr. Sammons shares with a laugh. He also serves on the board and the Executive Committee. “I was serving on the board when two board members asked if I would run for the Executive Committee. And when you have friends who have been so nice to you, you don’t want to say no. I said yes, and got elected…and that’s been fascinating.” Although serving on the board and various committees can be time consuming, Dr. Sammons believes it’s worth it.

“You give back to a society that gives you so much. We have a society that gives you all kinds of benefits, enhances your knowledge and ability to practice, and keeps you from being isolated. Plus, they’re delightful people,” Dr. Sammons says. He offers an interesting perspective on the Society and its development over the years as well. “In general, we are first generation TMS practitioners – those of us who have been in for a while…if you look at what we have now, we have the training programs, the newsletter, and we have CMEs that have just been absolutely outstanding.”

When asked if he has any advice for new Society members, Dr. Sammons suggests they take advantage of Society benefits and get involved. “While the group is still reasonably small, we have a wealth of information that people aren’t going to get in any other society. Those societies are large, and people are spread out, but here they can join a committee, pick people’s brains, and the CMEs that we do are an absolute godsend,” he says. “And we have the first generation of TMS folks who have been at this, discovered this, and they’re extremely open…it’s a place to come and ask questions. We’re such a young society that when you come to a meeting, you get to meet Tony Barker. You get to ask Mark George. You get to ask Alvaro [Pascual-Leone]. People entering now are on the ground floor – it’s not too big, the leaders are here, and they’re accessible. I think it’s a wonderful time for younger psychiatrists coming in.”