Interview With Christine Peeters-Asdourian, MD

By Priyanka Ghosh, MD    Sep 18, 2019

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 Women in RAPM Newsletter. In honor of Women in Medicine month, we have made it available for everyone. Watch for more content featuring women leaders throughout the month of September.

Priyanka Ghosh, MD, Interventional Pain Fellow, Weill Cornell Medicine

Dr. Christine Peeters-Asdourian is a prominent physician, academic, educator, interventionalist, and mentor to hundreds. She began her medical career at the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, graduating from medical school magna cum laude. Following graduation, she traveled across the ocean to complete her anesthesiology training at University of Massachusetts (UMass) Medical Center. After residency, she stayed on as faculty at UMass Medical Center, became a founding member of the Pain Division, and served as co-director until she was recruited to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Harvard Medical School. Dr. Peeters-Asdourian spent the last decades of her career at BIDMC, where she served as both the medical director of the Pain Division and program director of the Pain Medicine Fellowship. In addition to her local involvements, she invested her time and energy into multiple leadership roles within ASRA, including Meeting Chair. Interviewing this accomplished career woman was truly an honor.

What specifically drew you to the field of pain medicine?

When I was a medical student at Université Libre de Bruxelles, I had the opportunity to do an international rotation at Memorial Sloane Kettering because I initially wanted to be an oncologist. There, I luckily met Dr. Kathy Foley, a neurologist, and Dr. Raymond Houde, an anesthesiologist, who introduced me to the field of pain medicine via the newly formed inpatient pain medicine service and outpatient pain clinic. I immediately fell in love with the field and Dr. Houde encouraged me to pursue an anesthesiology residency then interventional pain medicine fellowship. I completed my anesthesia and pain training at University of Massachusetts under the mentorship of Dr. Michael Stanton-Hicks, who received the distinguished Bonica Award in 2017 from ASRA.

How did you create such a prolific academic career?

The foundation of my career was a true love for all of it! I stayed on staff at UMass, part-time at first, to take care of my two kids, and then progressively increased my time commitment. At work, I helped initiate the use of new techniques for pain interventions by integrating the use of fluoroscopy and other imaging modalities. Slowly, I acquired some administrative duties and eventually became the co-director of the Pain Division; this was certainly a balancing act with two children and a physician husband!

After becoming comfortable in my co-director role, I helped implement the creation of a formal pain fellowship program at UMass. With the encouragement of senior staff, I started lecturing at first locally and then regionally. Ultimately, I became the president of the New England Pain Association, the local chapter of the American Pain Society.

 In 1995, I received a phone call from Dr. Carol Warfield, who was the director of the Pain Medicine Division at BIDMC. She was looking to hire. I offered my services and started my 25-year career at Harvard. At BIDMC, I was both the Director of the Pain Division for 10 years as well as director of the Pain Medicine Fellowship for nine years. I am particularly proud that I played an important role in recruiting top notch residents, including talented women.

Other than at your institution, you were also involved on a national level. How did you do this?

Initially, I became involved at the local level with the New England Pain Society. Then, when ASRA started including a chronic pain curriculum in the early 2000s, I joined right away! I loved the culture of ASRA and really enjoyed the meetings. Eventually all the people I met became my professional and personal friends. ASRA became my main meeting and I attended it consistently. The highlight of my time with ASRA was when I became the meeting chair for the 2006 San Francisco Fall Chronic Pain Meeting at the suggestion of Dr. Rick Rosenquist, the president of ASRA at that time. After that, I became even more involved in all aspects of ASRA from lecturing to workshops to the various committees and special interest groups.

What advice do you have for women who are interested in emulating your incredible career?

I was fortunate enough to be surrounded by mentors and colleagues who believed that I was just as good as any man. Women have to know this about themselves and women have to be aggressive in establishing their place at the table. Just as important is finding strong mentors, both male and female. It has been an amazing run with plenty of opportunities at the local, regional and national level as well as administrative duties.

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