Gregory Terman, MD PhD
APS President Elect
Professor, Anesthesiology and the Graduate Program in Neurobiology and Behavior
University of Washington
Please give us a brief description of your current area of specialty. What sparked your interest in your field?
My interests in pain started as an undergraduate psychology major at the College of William and Mary in Virginia in the late 1970s. Endorphins had just been discovered and the role of these chemicals in modulating pain was an exciting topic of discussion in my Physiological Psychology class. I did some rudimentary studies of conditioned analgesia in rats with a faculty sponsor in those undergraduate days before having the opportunity to go to University of California, Los Angeles, for graduate study in the laboratory of Dr. John Liebeskind. There we studied the anatomy, chemistry, and activating stimuli of endogenous pain inhibitory systems in the rodent brain and spinal cord. After receiving my PhD in behavioral neuroscience, I headed to the University of Miami for medical school hoping to learn more about pain. It was in medical school that I fell in love with anesthesiology, a field comprised mostly of applied pharmacology and physiology with every surgical case being a pain management problem. With my interests, it was pretty easy to choose the University of Washington in Seattle for residency with its long history of pain innovation led by John Bonica, John Loeser, and others. After residency, a pain fellowship, and a research fellowship, I joined the faculty and over the years have enjoyed my diverse activities as an anesthesiologist, pain physician, and researcher.
Why is APS important in your field?
My first American Pain Society meeting was in Chicago in 1983. My PhD mentor, Dr. John Liebeskind, pushed me to go and I have missed only a handful of annual meetings since. I particularly enjoyed meeting many of the senior scientists in the pain world that Dr. Liebeskind introduced me to. It was an excellent meeting for a trainee, and I believe that it still is. Subsequently, it has been the APS’s interdisciplinary approach to pain that has become the major attraction for me of the annual meetings specifically and of the society in general. Yes, I admit that I too end up attending mostly symposia that are in my own field during the annual meetings, but it is frequently the talks outside my particular research interests that teach me the most including the plenary lectures that always seem to give me perspectives that expand my view of pain research and treatment. This is no small matter as the dire results of mono-therapeutic approaches to pain have become more and more obvious during the past several years. Whether the therapy is an intervention or a new or ancient drug treatment, the idea of simply “fixing” a patient’s pain with a magic bullet is no more tenable today than it was as I listened at my first APS meeting.
What is your vision for APS during your tenure, and where do you see APS in 4 years?
In some ways my vision for APS has more to do with more effective communication of what we already are doing than in a major change in direction for the society. Although there are many societies out there worldwide one could join, in this country, only APS has facilitating pain research and treatment as its primary goal. Both basic scientists who may never have seen a living animal of any species in pain and clinicians who may never have seen a basic scientist benefit from APS’s work through our clinical guidelines, in-person educational opportunities, NIH and FDA advocacy activities, and research funding programs. I am hopeful that in the next 4 years we will be more successful in having our efforts recognized both by researchers who write applications for grants that might not exist without our advocacy and primary care clinicians who rely on our guidelines for treating the most difficult patients in their practice. If we are successful in these efforts I feel certain that our society will continue to grow and thereby facilitate translational efforts to bring innovative treatments to people in pain.
As president-elect, what do you think will be most challenging?
I suspect that the most challenging part of being president-elect will be similar to the most challenging parts of every other leadership position I have held—finding time and mechanisms to listen to those one is leading. It is difficult for a society to be all things to all people. As an interdisciplinary individual myself I know that I am often conflicted about how best to use my time and resources—whether providing patient care, teaching, or research. It is only by keeping the communication lines open and our eyes on our mission and goals that, as diverse and successful a group of members as we have, APS can continue to grow individually and collectively. It must be remembered that APS is all about “us” rather than “them.”
What do you hope to gain and achieve during your next year as president-elect?
Well, I hope in the next year to learn how to become a decent president for one thing—such that when my time comes, I’ll be ready. I have been fortunate in the past 30 years of APS membership to know many APS Presidents, and I have worked closely with the last four or five. Each president brought his or her own unique perspective to the job—one that I would not even attempt to copy. However, the most successful presidents I have known listened more than they talked and relied heavily on their board of directors and the APS staff to move APS forward. I hope in the next year to become better acquainted with the current APS Board and staff to help me serve members better during my presidency.
Featured in the June 2013 Issue of E-News