What inspired you to become a healthcare professional?
I was completing my PhD when I had the opportunity to spend time with a visiting professor in psychology, Dr. Ed Kremer. Dr. Kremer developed one of the first behavioral medicine treatment programs at Dartmouth. We had many discussions regarding the mind/body approach to health and illness, and I became intrigued with the mind/body/ spirit interaction and its potential to transform lives. Upon finishing my PhD, I completed my internship in clinical psychology with an emphasis in behavioral medicine at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. This deepened my appreciation for the role of promoting behavior change in improving an individual’s quality of life.
Why did you focus on pain management?
During my postdoctoral training in behavioral medicine, I was exposed to the management of a number of conditions including bariatrics, smoking, cancer, and noted that there was a real paucity of emphasis on pain management. One of my first positions after completing my training and joining the faculty of the School of Medicine at PENN was to provide inpatient consultation services at one of the University hospitals. I began to gravitate to individuals who suffered from chronic pain and found my niche and passion, which I have pursued for my entire career.
Who were your mentors?
One is Dr. Charles O’Brien, Professor of Psychiatry at penn, a world-renowned expert in addiction medicine, who taught me the importance of both patience and persistence and always encouraged me to strive to achieve higher personal and professional goals. I established the first inpatient pain management program in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at PENN and was fortunate to have a medical partner, Dr. John Esterhai, as my codirector. He is one of the most compassionate and caring professionals and individuals that I have ever had the fortune to call a friend and mentor. Dr. Esterhai helped me deepen my passion in caring for the unrepresented and undertreated individuals who suffer from chronic pain. Lastly, I would say that the thousands of patients that I have had the blessing to interact with and care for have taught me innumerable lessons and driven me to be a better healthcare provider, each and every day.
If you weren’t a healthcare provider, what would you be?
In my current life I have diverse interests, including providing clinical care to patients with chronic pain, managing NIH-funded research projects on the intersection of pain and substance use disorders, publishing both evidence based and review articles in the area of pain medicine, and I’m a mentor to nursing and medical students, postdoctoral fellows and pain fellows. If I was not providing direct healthcare services, I would focus more on my science and in teaching, as I believe the future in improving pain care is to produce evidence based research not just opinion pieces and to better train the new generation of healthcare providers.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I have always admired the passion and commitment that my colleagues and mentors consistently display in their pursuit of improving pain care and disseminating novel research. I would hope that both my patients and my peers would see me as a passionate, caring individual, who places the needs of others before my own. Lastly, I would say my humor and open nature are characteristics that help to foster a positive therapeutic relationship with my patients and their families.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
To overcome certain insecurities and, in fact, to use my insecurities to fuel my persistence in achieving my goals in life.
What is your favorite language?
Well, as the joke goes, I speak two languages: English and bad English. I would say my favorite language is that of emotions that can be transmitted between individuals without a spoken word. I believe when you are caring for individuals who suffer greatly, connecting and communicating emotionally can engender an incredible therapeutic bond.
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: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
Film: Good Will Hunting
Song: Swept Away by Christopher Cross
What would you like your legacy to be?
That in some small way, through my writings, research, teaching, and clinical care, I helped transform the way we deliver pain care to the countless numbers of individuals who suffer each day, and destigmatize pain, and to see pain as a true disease that should garner the same respect and resources as other major diseases. Lastly, that I approach my work and life with passion and integrity.
What is your motto?
“Learn from the past, plan for the future, and live in the moment,” being fully engaged in work and life, not tethered by past mistakes or future obligations.