Adam T. Hirsh
Department of Psychology, School of Science
Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
How has APS membership been of value to you and your professional development?
I joined APS as a first-year graduate student. I continue to be amazed by its talented and diverse members; they keep me excited and energized to plow my own little field in the pain community. APS membership has also allowed me to present research at annual meetings, interact with leaders in the field, serve on the editorial board of The Journal of Pain, and take a leadership role in two shared interest groups (SIGs; Psychosocial Research and Pain and Disparities). These experiences help me manage the “imposter syndrome” that I nurtured as a graduate student and continue to experience today. On a very practical level, APS has directly contributed to my development through a recent Future Leaders in Pain Research grant and previous Young Investigator Travel awards.
What is your area of specialty?
I am a clinical health psychologist by training. I am particularly interested in the psychosocial factors that influence how people experience pain and how they are assessed and treated by others. My research group has been active in developing novel methodologies to investigate these pain judgment processes. Specifically, we have used virtual human technology and mixed methodologies to examine how patient variables (e.g., facial expressions, demographic characteristics), provider variables (e.g., attitudes/biases, expertise), and contextual variables (e.g., clinical ambiguity, time constraint) independently and interactively influence pain assessment and treatment decisions.
What sparked your interest in working in your field? Briefly describe your career path.
I took a psychology course in high school, found it interesting, and decided that would be my major in college. I soon joined a substance-use research lab and learned about the biopsychosocial model of health. This topic struck my fancy enough for me to pursue a PhD in clinical health psychology. After interviewing with Mike Robinson, PhD, at the University of Florida, I was sold on pain [as a specialty]; I accepted their offer immediately and never looked back. During my time at Florida, Mike provided a perfect combination of guidance and independence that facilitated my development as a scientist. I then accepted a postdoctoral fellowship with a group led by Mark Jensen, PhD, at the University of Washington. Mark was also exceptionally generous with his time and resources, while providing the freedom to find my own professional footing. These graduate and postdoctoral experiences prepared me well for my current position as assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI). I am blessed to be in an environment that facilitates my continued personal and professional development, and I am especially fond of my collaborations with colleagues in the Indiana University School of Medicine and the Roudebush VA Medical Center.
What has been a highlight of your work? Perhaps you and your staff are proud of a certain project or accomplishment.
We are especially proud of our work using novel methodologies to examine important issues surrounding pain assessment and treatment. This area of research is difficult due, in part, to the constraints of usual research designs that lack sufficient experimental control (to test hypotheses) or ecological validity (to approximate real clinical settings). Though our approach has its own limitations and does not completely mitigate those [challenges] noted above, we believe our work has contributed to a better understanding of pain assessment and treatment decision-making. Relatedly, we are proud of our work that addresses the “Why?” questions related to variability in pain treatment decisions. These questions move beyond description of variability and toward explanation of it, which is critical to improving pain care, especially for the most vulnerable patients. A more process-oriented highlight of my day-to-day work is the opportunity to rub shoulders with bright and inquisitive students and colleagues. These collaborations challenge and excite me; they are one of the great pleasures of my job.
Who is your favorite role model—and why?
Within the pain community, I aspire to be a mere fraction of the scholars that Mike Robinson and Mark Jensen are. They are academic exemplars, but more importantly, they are wonderful family members and friends. Steve George, PhD PT, is another model of personal and professional excellence. More broadly, I’ve always admired brave and principled thinkers who are willing to challenge orthodoxy and hold unfashionable views.
Featured in the February 2014 Issue of APS E-News