PITS Program Interview Questions - PAINWeek profile formatted
What inspired you to become a healthcare provider?
I had a lot of exposure to the medical field with all the physician family members that I grew up with; including, my father Nish, up in Brockton, Massachusetts (a vascular and general surgeon) when I was growing up in the 70s, my Uncle Sark in Texas (a cardiologist) when he frequently came to visit or when I went down to Dallas to visit, and my oldest brother Greg when he was attending Georgetown University Medical School in the early 80s. I remembered sitting at home at the dinner bar (yes “bar”, we didn’t eat our everyday meals at a table) with my father writing a paper for 5th grade on “Why I wanted to be a doctor”. So, I thought it was only natural that I wanted to follow the same foot steps into the healthcare world.
Why did you focus on pain management?
When I was going through my anesthesiology residency training program up at UMASS Medical Center (now UMASS-Memorial Medical Center) in the early 90s, I thoroughly enjoyed my pain management rotation with all the regional local anesthetic nerve blocks and IV morphine and Dilaudid narcotic pumps - “narcs and needles”. Also, around the same time, my program was offering the start of a Pain Management Fellowship training year. So, when I finished my fellowship I was lucky enough to enter the pain management world at its early beginnings in the United States and have helped it grow ever since right up to the start of my national Pain is the PITS® Program. And, little did I know years earlier in medical school when I injured myself on two separate occasions-one playing intramural basketball and popping my right knee lateral collateral ligament and the other weight lifting and popping my right shoulder levator scapulae muscle-that I would turn out to be a 20-year chronic pain sufferer, as well. So unfortunately, I can relate to both sides; being a pain sufferer with off-and-on pain for years, and a pain professor for years teaching and treating pain as a career.
Who were your mentors?
Of course all my physician family members growing up (dad, uncle, and brother); but, in my professional life, first there was Don Stevens, the director of my Pain Management Fellowship, who believed in my ability having been the Chief Resident the year before, and who really taught me the importance of taking a good history and physical exam on all new patients in the clinic. Then there was Ken Freese, who hired me out of training for my 7-year academic start, teaching as the Director of Anesthesia Pain Management in an anesthesiology training program at the Nassau County Medical Center (now NUMC) on Long Island. Ken was very supportive in helping me start a pain management and regional anesthesia rotation for the 2nd year residents and to expand pain management services throughout the hospital with other services, like PM&R and psychiatry. After that, I spent 10 years with John Stamatos at North American Partners in Pain Management (NAPPM), honing my clinical interventional technique skill, where John really gave me a 2nd pain fellowship experience learning advanced interventional techniques, like spinal narcotic pumps, that I didn’t learn in training or at the county hospital. It was in 2008, after my father passed from cancer the year before, that I had the vision of creating a universal pain management educational program - the Pain is the PITS® Program - to help all those who suffered from chronic pain; so really, it all came back to dad being my final mentor again, even in his absence.
If you weren’t a healthcare provider, what would you be?
I always loved teaching, and with both a psychology degree and biology degree coming out of Boston College in 1983, I probably would have followed one of those pathways toward a PhD, and an eventual teaching position in a high school or college…who knows!
What is your most marked characteristic?
I think it’s all my “positivity” that I go through life with and all the laughter that I enjoy every day, in my work and at home. I’ve had to work so hard and for so long to get my current station in life - like a lot of people - that I like to pass it along to all those around me who are interested in listening to my story and my philosophy. I often tell my patients that, “I take my work seriously, but not myself at all”; and, my children often remark how positive I stay, in both and good and the bad times. I guess I’m wired genetically that way, and if it’s true, then it sure has been paying off for all that has happened. Of course, it could always be the hand of God responsible for my accomplishments, but I’ll take all the help I can!
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
The greatest achievement was probably the persistent pursuit of all the academic studies that I was required to take along the way to finally being the best pain management version of myself. Think about it, I obtained seven higher educational degrees in 15 years of full-time study to reach the top. Out of high school in 1979, I got both a BA in Psychology and a BS in Biology at Boston College, a MS in Civil Engineering with a public health focus at Tufts University, a MS at Georgetown University in Physiology and Biophysics, then a MD degree at Georgetown University Medical School, then a degree in the medical specialty field of Anesthesiology, and finally, my sub-specialty Pain Management fellowship degree in 1994. Wow...that went quick; and I joke with my family that if you add grades 1-12 to the mix, I was a full time student for over a quarter century!
What is your favorite language?
Armenian, of course; I was born in to this world with a Kechejian (dad) and a Basmajian (mom). Growing up, my brothers and I went to an Armenian summer camp on Cape Cod each year for 2 weeks, and because learning Armenian was a big part of the experience, I never forgot one of the first phrases I learned; “Astvats e Ararich’y”, “God is creator”. Too bad I didn’t stick with it, although my grandma Araxy sure tried to get us to learn; you know, with the “old country” approach. God rest her soul.
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?
For a novel, I really enjoyed the satyr The House of God, by Samuel Shem, while going through medical training; but I’m taking the book Unbroken-2010, by Laura Hillenbrand, the World War II survival story. A great read on the human spirit and the persistent struggle and resilience of a young soldier. My brother-in-law Tim gave the book to me for a Christmas gift one year, and it’s a keeper. Some of my children enjoyed the story, as well.
For films, there are so many I enjoyed through the years, both as a child (Star Wars) and in to adult life, but if I had to choose one, I would take a romance/comedy story, Leap Year-2010, starring Amy Adams and Matthew Goode; so I would always be reminded of my loving wife, Joanne. Goodness knows how many times we watched that movie together in recent time…a lot of laughs, memorizing the lines, every time we watched.
My music choice is a country CD album by John Denver that came out in 1998, The Best of John Denver. I’ve been playing that CD and singing the songs ever since; and now my daughters Caroline and Emma sing along…I love it.
What would you like your legacy to be?
I would hope that when it’s all said and done for me, that I left that world with a little hope for a more comfortable future with the creation of what I envision to be the country’s first nationally recognized educational pain management program, the Pain is the PITS® Program; where patient and doctor come together for a better interactive assessment and treatment experience when it comes to treating chronic pain in America. Utilizing my P-I-T-S acronym educational methodology to guide care, millions of pain sufferers can maximize their Pain and Quality-of-Life Score (PITS Score), my new pain assessment tool to measure their progress in the program; and my integrative P-I-T-S treament protocol (Pills-Injections-Therapy-Surgery) for a best care practice. I’m dedicating the next 20 years of my life toward this goal!
What is your motto?
As a high school graduate, from Brockton High School, in Brockton, Massachusetts, it was, “go for it!”…so much so that I invented a board game, called “Go for It” - too bad it never got copyrighted, one of my business uncles said it wasn’t original enough. It certainly represented my love for the creative-educational process at the time. Through the next two decades, it was, “The harder you work, the luckier you become”, which I picked up from my uncle Sark, in Dallas, Texas. It certainly made sense at the time; remember my seven higher educational degrees in a 15 year span during this time! Now-a-days, in honor of my PITS Pain Program, it’s, “Feel better and live your life, because pain is the PITS”! No truer words, in my mind, and unfortunately in my body. But, that’s why I created a universal integrative assessment and treatment protocol guideline for chronic pain. Now let’s do this…hey, this could be my next motto, “Let’s do this”!...LOL.