NEWS | June 13, 2016

UC Davis establishes research center to tackle pain epidemic

Center for Advancing Pain Relief focuses on research, education


Leveraging the vast expertise of scholars and scientists in medicine, nursing and other health science disciplines, UC Davis has established the Center for Advancing Pain Relief.

Heather M. Young, left, and Scott Fishman lead the new UC Davis Center for Advancing Pain Relief. Heather M. Young, left, and Scott Fishman lead the new UC Davis Center for Advancing Pain Relief.

For the past four years, grants awarded to the Schools of Nursing and Medicine have laid the foundation for innovative work in the area of pain. The nation’s health care system has been successful in extending life expectancy but has not done nearly as well in providing relief from chronic pain. Ultimately, leaders behind the UC Davis Center for Advancing Pain Relief hope to discover and deliver the knowledge and tools to effectively help people manage their pain and improve their quality of life.

Scott Fishman, professor of anesthesiology and chief of the UC Davis School of Medicine Division of Pain Medicine, directs the center with co-director Heather M. Young, associate vice chancellor for nursing and founding dean of the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis. The two have collaborated on pain since 2011, when they established the Interprofessional Pain Management Competency Program, to create core competencies for learners. Together, they seek to lead a cultural transformation that advances the understanding of pain, expands what future clinicians learn.

“With educators, scientists, physicians, nurses, psychologists, pharmacists, even veterinarians and lawyers to name a few, we have the opportunity to seize the diverse expertise within our university, bring down invisible barriers, and synergize our efforts in treating pain,” Fishman said. “For example the veterinary school must address pain relief for animals and the law school addresses legal issues and social policy around prescription abuse, disability and pain. By working together, we can stem the tide of the national epidemic of inadequate and too often harmful pain management and lead innovations that will change how pain is addressed by health providers and taught by educators nationwide.”

Fishman also leads the UC Davis Center for Pain Medicine, recognized by the American Pain Society as a Clinical Center of Excellence. He and Young lead a team of faculty from both the Schools of Medicine and Nursing in hopes of demonstrating sustained return on investment, ultimately leading to changes in research, education and policy across the United States with a focus on person-centered care that places the individual at the heart of treatment.

“Pain is a multidimensional experience and effective approaches take more perspectives than any one individual or profession might bring. Since our nursing, nurse practitioner, physician assistant, medical and pharmacy students learn together, let’s harness that diversity and teach them best practices before they enter practice,” Young said.

A 2011 study from the National Academy of Medicine, formerly the Institute of Medicine, found that nearly 100 million American adults suffer from chronic pain at a cost of $635 billion per year. Yet funding for research to understand and treat pain lags far behind the mounting expenditures from people, providers, health insurers and health systems. More fundamentally, although pain is the most common reason a person seeks help from a clinician, pain is only minimally taught in schools and training programs for these professionals.

As a surgeon who specializes in a procedure that relieves chronic pain, UC Davis Vice Chancellor for Human Health Sciences and School of Medicine Dean Julie Freischlag has had first-hand experience with the issue.

“Despite our best clinical efforts, millions of people still suffer from chronic pain,” Freischlag said. “Pain doesn’t affect just the individual; it has consequences for families, employers and society as a whole. Our goal is to have clinicians and other experts work more closely together to establish better, safer methods for addressing pain.”

The center’s initial projects include:

  • An inaugural campus-wide symposium, facilitated by the Schools of Medicine and Nursing and including other programs, schools and colleges, such as the School of Veterinary Medicine and College of Biological Sciences, to unite those working in the area of pain relief
  • The UC Health Pain Champions program to identify those throughout the University of California who share the goal of relieving suffering

Center news and information can be found here. Fishman discusses the center in this video. Interested parties in learning more about center events can email organizers at