Women in Pain Medicine: Their Inspirations, Aspirations, and Pearls of Wisdom

By Andrea Nicol, MD, MSc    Sep 10, 2019

In honor of Women in Medicine month, we present a sample listing of women leaders in pain medicine. This article originally appeared in the May 2016 edition of ASRA News and has been lightly edited for 2019. Watch for more content featuring women leaders throughout the month of September.


Andrea Nicol, MD, MSc, Assistant Professor, Department of Anesthesiology, Kansas University Medical Center


In the February 2016 edition of ASRA News, Dr. Le-Wendling authored an article highlighting the achievements and contributions of outstanding women in regional anesthesiology. In this article, Dr. Andrea Nicol shares her perspective by presenting a sampling of women leaders in pain medicine. This provides for another wonderful opportunity to further recognize women physician leaders for their notable and invaluable contributions to the fields of regional anesthesiology and pain medicine.

Magdalena Anitescu, MD, PhD, Professor of Anesthesiology, University of Chicago

Dr. Magdalena Anitescu is a professor of anesthesiology at the University of Chicago and is chief of pain management and director of the pain medicine fellowship program. She cites her mother, a retired ophthalmologist in her home country of Romania, as her earliest mentor, and Drs. Rick Rosenquist and Honorio Benzon as her contemporary mentors. Her research and publications cover a wide variety of topics. Her clinical expertise is in interventional management of cancer pain, ketamine infusion therapies for chronic nonmalignant pain conditions, and multimodal approach for treatment of refractory central pain syndromes. Her unwavering service to the ASRA is multifold: she has many times been a member of the Fall Meeting Scientific Program planning committee, and has taught numerous problem-based learning discussions (PBLDs), workshops, and panels as a faculty and an associate faculty member. Her advice to young pain physicians early in their careers is to “try and look at your profession as an event where you are studying exciting things for your entire life and read new developments in the field and introduce them constantly.” Dr. Anitescu’s dedication and commitment to academic pain medicine is inspiring, and she credits her successful and happy career through finding balance in the work-life venue.

May L. Chin, MD, Professor of Anesthesiology and Critical Care Medicine, George Washington University Hospital

Dr. May L. Chin spearheaded the inception and development of the Acute Pain Service and the practice of pain medicine in the George Washington (GW) University Medical Center more than 20 years ago. Currently, she is a professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the GW University School of Medicine and is the co-director of the GW Spine and Pain Center. She has served on the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA) Regional Anesthesia and Pain Medicine Committees and the American Medical Association advisory board for the development of continuing medical education series on pain management. She has served on the editorial board for Anesthesia & Analgesia. She has been an associate oral board examiner for the American Board of Anesthesiology for over 30 years. Dr. Chin has published manuscripts and authored book chapters on acute and chronic pain and recently co-edited a book on pain in women. She continues to present and lecture at national meetings including ASA, ASRA, and the American Academy of Pain Medicine. Her current clinical and research interests include multimodal analgesia and innovative pharmacologic and interventional techniques for management of neuropathic pain. Dr. Chin’s “words of wisdom” to junior faculty is to be open and willing to try and learn different things. “Years ago, when my chair asked me to help out in chronic pain, I jumped right in,” Chin says. “At the time, pain medicine was not as developed a subspecialty as it is now. I have straddled acute and chronic pain for many years and this venture has been educational and inspiring. I continue to enjoy imparting a sense of adventure and curiosity to residents and medical students as I encourage them to be versatile and engage in lifelong learning.”

Anne Marie McKenzie-Brown, MD, Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, Emory University

Dr. Anne Marie McKenzie-Brown is an associate professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at Emory University School of Medicine. She currently fills her time as the director of the Division of Pain Management and director of the Emory Center for Pain  Management. She was the director of the pain fellowship at Emory University for more than 10 years and is a pioneer in the use of simulation-based education in pain fellowship training. She has held numerous membership and leadership positions for multiple national societies including ASRA and the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians. She has served on the editorial board for Pain Physician journal and has authored numerous peer-reviewed manuscripts published in high-impact-factor journals such as Anesthesiology. She cites her departmental chair, Dr. Laureen Hill, as her current mentor, whom she regards as one of the most composed people under pressure she has ever known. Dr. McKenzie-Brown credits persistence and a willingness to do what is required as the keys to a successful career in pain medicine. She is inspired by “the vibrancy of the field of pain medicine” and loves the multidisciplinary aspect of pain where learning from colleagues in diverse backgrounds provides enrichment to our field.

Ellen W. K. Rosenquist, MD, Assistant Professor of Anesthesiology, Cleveland Clinic

Dr. Ellen W. K. Rosenquist became involved in ASRA during her residency when she was elected as the chair of the Resident Section Committee and has continued to be an outstanding champion for resident and fellow education within the society as the Pain Medicine Faculty Advisor to the Resident Section Committee. She has served as a member of the ASRA Fall Pain Meeting Planning Committee and the ASRA CME committee. Dr. Rosenquist is an assistant professor of anesthesiology at Cleveland Clinic, where she is highly active in clinical, educational, and research activities. She was recently named medical director of the Pain Management Department at Twinsburg Family Health and Surgery Center and also serves as a member of the Admissions Committee of the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine. Dr. Rosenquist has authored numerous book chapters, abstracts, and peer-reviewed manuscripts. She counts Drs. Kathleen Sluka, Christopher Honda, and Richard Rosenquist among her influential mentors and believes a good mentor is “someone who is an expert in their field and is genuinely interested and committed to helping you become an expert by sharing their experiences and helping guide you in the right direction in your career.” Her advice for early-career pain physicians is to not measure success by how much money you make or how much recognition you receive locally or nationally. Instead, Dr. Rosenquist offers this sage wisdom: “Count success by the number of patients you impact for the better on a daily basis.”

Gina Votta-Velis, MD, PhD, Clinical Associate Professor of Anesthesiology, University of Illinois at Chicago

Dr. Gina Votta-Velis’s prolific scholarly career involves groundbreaking translational science research on the effects of local anesthetics on cancer recurrence. She has received prestigious grants from the European Society of Anaesthesiology to support her innovative research and has served as a co-investigator on an National Institutes of Health (NIH) R01 funded project investigating a target for sickle cell pain. She has published more than 20 peer-reviewed manuscripts, and her research has been highly respected by her peers, as she and her research colleagues’ abstracts have been chosen for “Best of Meeting” awards from either ASRA or the European Society of Regional Anaesthesia and Pain Therapy on a yearly basis since 2009. Dr. Votta-Velis is a clinical associate professor of anesthesiology at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine. She serves as the director of both the Acute Pain and Regional Anesthesia fellowship and the Pain Subspecialty fellowship program at her institution. She is an active member of the ASRA Research Committee. She identifies Dr. Alain Borgeat as her mentor and research collaborator for the past 8 years in the field of regional anesthesia and credits her education, training, and involvement in pain medicine to Drs. Charles Laurito and Richard Rosenquist. She attributes her successful career to the steadfast wisdom and support from her departmental chair, Dr. David Schwartz, and to the passion and perseverance she holds for her chosen career path. She is inspired by “the devotion and humility we have to show for each and every pain patient in order to achieve even the slightest improvement” and states that this facet of pain medicine is what inspires her to continue her work and to become a better physician.

Nirmala Abraham, MD, Medical Director, Sycamore Pain Management Center

Dr. Nirmala Abraham has been heavily involved in ASRA, including the Scientific/Education Planning Committee for many years and as chair in 2007. She continues to be active in ASRA through educational service as faculty at the Fall Pain Meetings. She names Dr. F. Michael Ferrante as her primary mentor and says she has been continually inspired by him ever since working with him during her residency at the University of Pennsylvania. She says, “Good mentors challenge those they are training and support them in their endeavors and through leading by example.” After residency and fellowship, she ultimately became assistant director of the UCLA Pain Management Center alongside Dr. Ferrante, where she also worked diligently as the program director of the Pain Medicine fellowship program. Her current role is medical director at the Sycamore Pain Management Center in Miamisburg, Ohio. She believes “work-life balance” is of utmost importance in having a successful career, in addition to staying focused on being innovative in the ever-changing world of pain management. In her free time, she is a violinist with the New England Symphonic Ensemble, a group she has played and toured with since college. She has performed in some of most renowned music venues in the world, including Carnegie Hall. A true renaissance woman, she has combined her medical expertise with innate thespian skills, playing the role of an anesthesiologist on two episodes of Grey’s Anatomy.

As an aside—I personally count Dr. Abraham as one of my most trusted mentors, colleagues, and dear friends. - Andrea Nicole

Christine Peeters-Asdourian, MD, Assistant Professor of Anesthesia, Harvard Medical School

Dr. Christine Peeters-Asdourian, originally from Brussels, Belgium, came to the United States to train in anesthesiology at the University of Massachusetts, Worcester, under the Chairmanship of Dr. Michael Stanton-Hicks. She joined the faculty at this institution and established the formal fellowship program there, which achieved full accreditation in 1994. Along with Dr. Stanton-Hicks, she counts Dr. Bob Burney as a mentor and states that “from Bob, I learned how to be pragmatic with the challenging pain patient.” Currently, Dr. Peeters-Asdourian is appointed as an assistant professor of anesthesia at Harvard Medical School. She is the past director of the Division of Pain Medicine and the Pain Medicine Fellowship at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. She has been an active member of ASRA since 1984 and was a founding member of the New England Pain Society. Her devotion and service to ASRA is manifold, as she continues to contribute to the educational mission of the society through faculty lecturing. Dr. Peeters-Asdourian is well published, authoring many manuscripts and abstracts that have been published in high-impact factor journals. She attributes her successful career to serendipity and finds great happiness in mentoring residents and fellows. She notes that “young enthusiastic minds challenge you constantly, challenge your thinking, and open your mind to new perspectives in solving problems.”

Pamela Palmer, MD, PhD, Director and Chief Medical Officer, AcelRx Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

Dr. Pamela Palmer has been many things in her life’s work—an electrical engineer, an anesthesiologist, a pain doctor, and now a pharmaceutical entrepreneur. She is currently a director and chief medical officer of AcelRx Pharmaceuticals, Inc., a biotech company focused on novel treatments for acute pain, which she co-founded in 2005. She began her medical and scientific career at Stanford University, receiving both an MD and a PhD in neuroscience. She completed her medical training (anesthesiology and pain medicine) at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). She has been on faculty at UCSF since 1996 and is currently on faculty as a volunteer clinical professor. Dr. Palmer is a former Foundation for Anesthesia Education and Research Young Investigator awardee and has been a recipient of two highly competitive NIH R01 grants, investigating the role of nociceptin and other proteins in opioid and nociceptive signaling pathways. She identifies Dr. Ron Miller as her mentor. Early in her career, he shared with her the important key to his success, “Once a week, do something that takes you out of your comfort zone”—and it is this motto that she continues to live by to this day. She advises that doing what you love is always the best bet to being successful and that success is usually due to perseverance, not luck. Dr. Palmer believes that the notion of relieving someone’s pain is at the heart of all of medicine. Although she is no longer providing hands-on medical care, Dr. Palmer still feels intimately connected to the humanistic “pull” of pain medicine through developing innovative new pain medications.

Within the emblem for ASRA lie the cornerstones for achievement and advancement in our society: education and research. It is indeed evident that these women are not only leaders and pioneers in our field but also true champions of these ASRA missions. They are true role models for all ASRA members, and we should strive to uphold the missions of the society by following their example and continuing the pursuit of education, inquisition, lifelong learning, participation, and contribution.

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