What inspired you to become a healthcare provider?
I had a circuitous route into psychology and did not have a grand plan for the future until I was on postdoctoral fellowship at Johns Hopkins University. At Hopkins, I was working with patients with catastrophic burn, amputation, spinal cord injury, and major medical concerns that required inpatient rehabilitation. From the start I was very comfortable working with people who were suffering. I found that patients readily responded to me, and this positive response validated my knowledge that I was working in the right space.
Why did you focus on pain management?
The field of pain has always been a natural home for me. While I love working with patients in clinic, I spend a great deal of my time conducting research studies, providing public education, and publishing because these activities allow me to reach more people and have greater impact. I have been developing video treatments, and I love that this format will allow countless patients to access specific psychobehavioral treatment.
Who were your mentors?
Dr. Stephen Wegener at Johns Hopkins University. I also hold in high esteem several nonclinical mentors, including Dr. Lerita Coleman Brown and Dr. Tonya Palermo. Ultimately, the collective wisdom I gained through patient care was critical--so in that regard I would say my patients are among my greatest mentors
If you weren’t a healthcare provider, what would you be?
I wear a lot of hats already: pain psychologist, NIH-funded researcher, Psychology Today columnist, and author. I recall knowing at age 11 that I would become a writer one day, but I am surprised at how it has manifested in my life. Last year I published Less Pain, Fewer Pills, and I am now writing a second book, focusing on catastrophizing in the context of pain, health, and life.
I was a semiprofessional runner and cyclist earlier in life. I was an ultramarathon trail runner when I won my first research grant in 2006. I promptly gave up competitive racing to focus on my career in pain. I still love to run, but now I do so purely for fun and relaxation, with no deadlines or performance demands--I have enough of those in other areas of my life!!
What is your most marked characteristic?
I most admire compassion in others and, while I would like to claim that as my most marked characteristic, the characteristic that others most identify in me is passion. Along with passion I would also throw in persistence, because I would have achieved little in life if I had stopped when I received the first, second, or 100th “No.”
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Overcoming fear, because it is requisite for risk-taking. To accomplish great things in life, one must repeatedly take big risks.
What is your favorite language?
The unspoken languages of emotion and energy that are interpersonally communicated: love, compassion, simpatico energy…
If you had to choose one book, one film, and one piece of music to take into space for an undetermined amount of time, what would they be?
Book: Women Who Run With the Wolves by Clarissa Pinkola Estés.
Film: The Matrix.
Song: Imagine by John Lennon.
I love media that expand thinking around possibilities, challenge assumptions, and inspire positive change from within and without.
What would you like your legacy to be?
My goal has always been to help empower others to manifest their highest potential and mission in life. Pain can stand as a critical barrier to fulfilling one's life mission, so I am committed to helping dismantle this barrier by helping to provide rapid access to low cost, high quality pain care to all. Knowing that I have helped another is tremendously rewarding, and even more so when the ripple-effect is considered. Each of us truly has the capacity to change the world.
What is your motto?
Have faith in yourself and, above all, live passionately.