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VA Psychologist Recognized for Outstanding Work in Pain Management

Robert D. Kerns, PhD
Robert D. Kerns, PhD

Robert D. Kerns, PhD, of the Veterans Health Administration's Office of Patient Care Services, has been recognized by the American Pain Society for his significant contributions to the field of pain management. The recognition came in the form of the prestigious John and Emma Bonica Public Service Award, accepted by Kerns at the American Pain Society's 29th Annual Scientific Meeting in Baltimore, MD, held in early May.

"I am honored and humbled to receive this award," Kerns said. "I am extraordinarily proud of the VA's accomplishments in delivering state-of-the-art pain care for Veterans. I share this award with the community of VHA colleagues who work every day to reduce the pain and suffering of the Veterans we serve."

In his role as National Program Director for Pain Management, Kerns is responsible for developing policy and overseeing VHA's national pain management strategy. He directs an interdisciplinary team of clinical, research, and training professionals within the VA Connecticut Healthcare System, and is a professor of psychiatry, neurology, and psychology at Yale University.

"Bob's scholarly contributions are extensive," said Dr. Michael Ebert, chief of staff for VA Connecticut. "He serves on the editorial board of five scientific journals. He's published nearly 200 peer-reviewed articles, chapters and books. His research has been funded by many federal and private sources for more than 25 years. He is a tremendous asset to VHA, and we are delighted to have him on the VA team."

Dr. Madhu Agarwal, VHA's Chief Patient Care Services Officer, concurred. "Dr. Kerns is a passionate champion of effective pain management for Veterans," she said. "This prestigious award is well deserved."

Kerns was recently awarded a VA Health Services Research and Development grant to establish VA Connecticut's Pain Research, Informatics, Medical Comorbidities and Education Center (also known as PRIME). Under Kerns' leadership, the unit is providing a significant boost to pain-related research at both VA and Yale University.

"The John and Emma Bonica Public Service Award is named after two pioneers in the field of pain management," explained Dr. Fred Wright, Associate Chief of Staff for Research at VA Connecticut. "This award is more than just an acknowledgement of Bob's research efforts and his commitment to public service. It's an acknowledgement of VA's continuous efforts to improve pain care not just for Veterans, but for everyone."

Kerns received his doctorate in Bioclinical Psychology from Southern Illinois University in 1980. He joined VA Connecticut in 1978 as a predoctoral psychology intern, and remained there throughout his career. His early work in the psychological and behavioral aspects of health and illness, including chronic pain, contributed to the emergence and growth of this field in VA and elsewhere.

Kerns served as Chief of the Psychology Service at VA Connecticut from 1987 to 2009, at which time he became Director of the PRIME Center. In 1999 he was appointed by the Undersecretary for Health to serve on the interdisciplinary National Pain Management Strategy Coordinating Committee. In 2005 he became National Program Director for Pain Management.

Kerns is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Society of Behavioral Medicine. He is the recipient of two noteworthy VHA awards: the 2006 David M. Worthen Award for Academic Excellence and the 2006 Mark Wolcott Award for Clinical Leadership.