Rachel Zoffness, PhD
Pediatric Pain Psychologist
1. Where did you grow up?
2. Where did you train?
Brown University, Columbia, SDSU, UCSD, NYU Child Study Center, Mt. Sinai-St. Luke’s Hospital
3. Where do you work now and describe the setting.
a. Assistant Clinical Professor at UCSF School of Medicine, where I teach pain education for residents and fellows,
b. Faculty at Dartmouth, where I lead trainings for physicians on a biopsychosocial approach to pain medicine,
c. Private practice in Northern CA serving youth and adults with chronic pain,
d. Medical consultant serving multidisciplinary clinics and healthcare providers around the world,
e. Science writer: write user-friendly books for patients on nonpharm approaches to pain medicine, and author a column for Psychology Today called Pain, Explainedto help educate the public about pain science. I am also a 2020-2021 Mayday Fellow, so hope to continue my training in pain communication and education this coming year.
4. What attracted you to the field of pediatric pain management?
I became fascinated by pain medicine when I was an undergrad at Brown University. I’d always wanted to live at the intersection of biology, medicine, psychology, neuroscience, education, and pediatrics. My major, Brain and Behavior, came close. My senior year, I trained with a neuroscientist researching anandamides and their role in pain regulation. It was fascinating, and I wrote my honors thesis on the Gate Control Theory of Pain and the role of endogenous neurochemicals in pain regulation. While conducting my postdoctoral training in nonpharmacological treatments for chronic pain, I realized I wanted to dedicate my life to pain medicine. One of my first chronic pain patients was a teenager who’d been in bed for four years. He’d seen 15 physicians and been on 40 medications. We did a course of CBT for pain and saw significant changes within three months. With a lot of hard work, he eventually started walking, then running; reconnected with friends; went back to school; returned to soccer; and got his life back. It was the single most powerful clinical experience I’ve ever had. This work is meaningful and it changes lives.
5. Why did you join SPPM and want to take on this role?
SPPM is a phenomenal organization. I was initially attracted by its educational initiatives and by the brilliant physicians I met. The conferences are wonderful and clearly value a multidisciplinary perspective. I saw an opportunity to help create additional biopsychosocial content, disseminate information about biobehavioral treatments for pain, and to contribute a unique perspective to the board. Pain psychologists and pediatric anesthesiologists frequently treat the same patients, but, due to professional silos in pain medicine, don’t get to collaborate or support one another nearly enough. Moreover, there’s a dearth of psychologists trained in pain and very few pain psychologists in leadership roles. It seems critically important to bridge the gap between medicine and psychology if our patients are going to get the care they need and deserve.
6. One silly fun question: What hidden talent do you have?
I’m a nature nerd and an amateur lepidopterist, and can identify all the California butterflies!