“I tell anyone who asks me about the UConn program that pain management is really in its infancy and still stuck in a biomedical approach. There are very few practitioners who are skillful in working holistically with pain; as clinicians, we owe it to ourselves to acquire a basic education in pain management. By earning the certificate from UConn, you’ll differentiate yourself in this growing and critical space.” - Dawn Bazarko, DNP, MPH, RN, FAAN, Graduate, Fall 2019, UConn Pain Management Online Graduate Certificate program
Dawn Bazarko is combining her expertise in mindfulness, experience as
a psychiatric nurse, and her newly acquired skills in pain management
to start her own consulting and teaching practice.
Closing the Knowledge Gap
To say Dawn Bazarko is highly educated is an understatement. Dawn is a Registered Nurse, has a Doctor of Nursing Practice and Master’s of Public Health from the University of Minnesota. She also attended an Executive Education Program through The Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, and she holds a Certificate in Mindfulness Facilitation from the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, Mindfulness Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles.
From 2000 to 2019, she worked for a large managed care organization, most recently as a Chief Clinical Officer. With her expertise in mindfulness, she was enlisted to teach mindfulness courses to the organization’s nursing staff. As she discovered, many of her students suffered stress and burnout, as well as acute and chronic pain. “Nurses care for others at the expense of their own health,” she notes. Yet despite her educational credentials and extensive medical expertise, Dawn admits that she had, in her own words, a “big knowledge gap when it came to helping people who experience acute and chronic pain.”
At the same time, Dawn says, the opioid crisis was on the rise. She saw that physicians would typically prescribe drugs like methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone buprenorphine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms. “All of the solutions were traditional and based on the biomedical model of treatment,” she says. “I felt like I needed new tools in my pain management arsenal and I wanted to be part of leading systemic changes designed to meet people where they are at and approach treatment from a biopsychosocial perspective, helping people deal with the underlying physical and emotional aspects of pain using methods other than drugs. There are many other social and psychological issues that persist with every pain condition, and unless they are addressed, quality of life remains impaired.”
Google to the rescue!
Dawn became curious about how to fill her knowledge gap and decided to do a Google search to see if there were programs available that could help her gain a better understanding of the underlying causes of pain and how she might use mindfulness and other mind-body therapies in the treatment of pain. Fortunately, one strong contender immediately popped up: The Pain Management Online Graduate Certificate program from the University of Connecticut (UConn).
“I spoke with Donna Campbell, who is the enrollment specialist for UConn’s online graduate certificate programs, as well as several of my colleagues,” says Dawn. “I felt that the program would fit with my career goals and provide the additional skills I would need to harness the power of taking a biopsychosocial approach to help people suffering with acute and chronic pain. And I have to admit, I am an academic geek. It was a big deal to me that the program was tied to UConn. I saw that the professors teaching the courses had published extensively. I very much respected that.”
Dawn started the first course in the fall of 2017, completing the program in December 2019. “It was a technically difficult program. Since I was working full time, I could only take one course a semester. Then I had to skip the spring 2018 semester because my grandmother got sick and later passed away. Fortunately, the program is very flexible. I spoke with my advisor, and he helped me work out my schedule, which I very much appreciated.” Dawn also liked the online nature of the certificate program. “The design of the program was thoughtful and the content was very rich. I found the HuskyCT/Blackboard platform easy to use and all of the database resources available through UConn were easy to access.”
A real eye-opener
When Dawn started the program, she admits she knew very little about preclinical research models. “I had no idea how new drugs go through testing nor did I know much about the clinical models of research. I remember being so surprised to learn that pain is always an expression of the brain and one can have pain with no tissue damage and tissue damage without pain. That really spoke to me. I wondered, ‘How can I help people better manage pain without drugs?’ The more I learned, the more I wanted to learn. I was so fascinated.”
In fact, the program fired up Dawn’s interest in pain management, inspiring her to enroll in the Online Master of Science in Pain Management program at the University of Southern California (USC). “Earning the certificate from UConn definitely helped me get into the program at USC.”
Opening the doors to new opportunities
In addition to working on her master’s degree, Dawn recently started her own consulting practice (Dawn Bazarko Healthcare Consulting) in January 2020). Earning the certificate from UConn has opened doors to a wide range of opportunities, including the establishment of an online coaching practice in which she works individually with patients who suffer from chronic pain, teaching them how to use mindfulness, enhanced pain literacy, and other problem-solving techniques to augment their care plan.
“Chronic pain can be debilitating; it causes a great deal of stress and contributes to poor sleep—and these relationships are bi-directional. I use mindfulness-based techniques to help patients establish a different relationship with their pain, so that they can begin to appreciate that pain changes all the time; it is not static. As they learn this concept, I can teach them self-regulation skills, for example, to help them lower their stress levels and sleep more restfully." Through her consulting company, she also plans to offer programs to nurses to teach them how to help their patients—and themselves—learn how to manage pain in non-traditional ways. “The credentials from UConn have been super helpful in terms of establishing myself in the field.”
Through the entire process of gaining expertise in the field of pain management, Dawn found out quickly that there aren’t good systems and procedures in place to deal with pain. “I tell anyone who asks me about the UConn program that pain management is really in its infancy and still stuck in a biomedical approach. There are very few practitioners who are skillful in working holistically with pain; as clinicians, we owe it to ourselves to acquire a basic education in pain management. By earning the certificate from UConn, you’ll differentiate yourself in this growing and critical space.”
“The online platform worked out wonderfully for me because I didn’t have to fit into anyone else’s schedule. Coursework was clearly laid out in the syllabus, with defined expectations and deadlines. I could plan my life around completing course responsibilities in a time frame that worked for me. And the ability to put my new skills to use in real-time clinical situations with actual patients has been invaluable.” - Mandy Luckanish, Graduate, Spring 2021, UConn Pain Management Online Graduate Certificate program
Mandy Luckanish is one of only a handful of pain management specialists in
Delaware that work with patients suffering from long-term chronic pain.
No Pain—Lots of Gain
As the saying goes, “Life happens.” And life sure happened in a big way to Amanda (Mandy) Luckanish! When her boss passed away unexpectedly three years ago, she had a big decision to make. Should she take over his practice? Or move on and find a new job?
“Despite having lost my boss, who I really enjoyed working with, I was fortunate. When I decided to step up and take over the practice, all of our patients stayed with us,” says Mandy. “I didn’t lose my job, and our patients were able to continue their care with the same medical team. Plus I didn’t have to build a whole new patient base.”
In many parts of the country, including Delaware, where Mandy practices, there’s a shortage of qualified pain management specialists, especially for patients suffering from long-term chronic pain. As the Medical Director at Eclipse Wellness, Mandy sees a lot of patients with degenerative conditions caused by working at physically difficult jobs for decades, as well as cancer patients who are left with widespread pain issues after treatment. Many of these patients suffer from a neurological condition called hyperalgesia, in which specific nerve receptors in the body become more sensitive to pain. Mandy and her team primarily treat patients with medication, referring them as necessary to colleagues who specialize in other avenues of treatment, such as injection therapy and massage.
“We all know about the opioid crisis and concerns about patients using pain medication for reasons not intended,” says Mandy. “Because we treat patients with such medications, I’m often in the position of having to justify a specific course of treatment with pharmacists, the Drug Enforcement Agency, among others. So for me, it’s extremely important to have specialized knowledge about the way pain works, how patients with similar conditions can experience pain very differently and understanding the underlying causes of pain so I can achieve the best outcomes for my patients.”
Conducive to adult learners
When she took over Eclipse Wellness, Mandy also decided she wanted to get certified in Pain Management. “That’s when I did an online search to find certificate programs.” As she discovered, the University of Connecticut Pain Management Online Graduate Certificate Program was the only one of its kind in the United States offering the curriculum she was looking for, without having to earn another degree. “I would have been looking at thousands of dollars and a huge time commitment to go for another Master’s,” she notes, and adds: “The Pain Management program was conducive to adult learners like me, with a demanding job and family.”
The program was exactly what she was looking for, says Mandy, and with the certificate, she is able to sit for the AANC (American Nurses Credentialing Center) certification exam. Once she passes the exam, she will be a Certified Nurse Practitioner in Pain Management, credentials that will allow her to refer to herself as a Certified Pain Management Specialist. “I gained so much from the program,” she says and adds: “The ability to put my new skills to use in real-time clinical situations with actual patients has been invaluable.”
Supportive, approachable faculty
Mandy also absolutely loved her professor, Dr. Mallory Perry. “I don’t know if I could have completed the program with someone else who didn’t interact with her students like Dr. Perry. She was very approachable and down to earth. She also provided a lot of individual feedback and was always supportive and encouraging. She wants her students to get as much as possible from the program.”
Mandy also notes that Dr. Perry, along with Donna Lee Campbell, Enrollment Services Specialist for UConn’s eCampus, were extremely helpful when she had to take an academic leave of absence because she was in the midst of the Eclipse Wellness transition. As she explains, “One of the best attributes of the program was its flexibility when I had to withdraw half way through the first semester. Both Dr. Perry and Donna went above and beyond to make sure I was able to return. While I did have to restart the two courses, I was not charged again.”
A familiar online platform
Mandy also greatly appreciated the online nature of the program. In fact, it turns out that when she was getting her Family Nurse Practitioner degree from Wilmington University, she and her fellow students used the Blackboard platform for submitting their assignments. “I was already well versed in using Blackboard when I enrolled in the UConn program. The online platform worked out wonderfully for me because I didn’t have to fit into anyone else’s schedule. Coursework was clearly laid out in the syllabus, with defined expectations and deadlines. I could plan my life around completing course responsibilities in a time frame that worked for me.” She also notes that Dr. Perry encouraged students to connect with each other beyond actual classwork. “It was so interesting to get to know other students with similar interests from all over the country.”
In summary, Mandy says that the course curriculum is ideal for anyone interested in understanding the mechanics of pain from the most basic elements of how pain is experienced to how it is treated. “Pain is very elusive and these days, it can be a taboo topic, especially when it comes to justifying that an individual in need of medication is truly experiencing pain,” she says and adds: “Pain is also subjective. You can’t prove someone has pain by giving them some type of test. And two people can have the same kind of injury, but experience pain completely differently. At the end of the program, you’ll have the expertise you need to make a huge difference in your patients’ lives.”
Mandy should know. When asked if she feels she has helped her patients, she says: “If you were to ask my patients, they will tell you that their livelihoods, their quality of life and even their ability to get out of bed in the morning depend upon our being able to successfully treat their pain. And that makes me feel like I’m doing something very meaningful.”
“Thanks to having gone through the UConn program, area physicians are increasingly acknowledging that I have formal credentials in the field and am very knowledgeable in pain management, which goes a long way toward establishing trust.” - Ashley Cocilova, MSN, FNP-C, Spring 2021 Graduate, Pain Management Online Graduate Certificate Program
While Ashley Cocilova has been in the pain management field for more
than a decade, today she feels much more confident working with patients
suffering from chronic pain, thanks in part to UConn’s Pain Management
Online Graduate Certificate program.
The Perfect Complement to On-the-Job Training
Since 2010, when Ashley Cocilova started her new job as a registered nurse for NewSouth NeuroSpine in Flowood, MS, working in the field of pain management has turned into a passion. In fact, over the past 11 years, Ashley has specialized in the field and now works as a Lead Family Nurse Practitioner with Total Pain Care of Flowood. There, she partners closely with physicians, assisting with interventional procedures designed to help eliminate chronic pain. "I'm responsible for doing patients' pre-operative assessments for such interventional procedures as epidural steroid injections, medial branch blocks, sacroiliac joint injections, among many others. One of our primary goals is to help patients manage their pain without invasive surgery," she notes.
Although she is immersed in managing chronic pain on a daily basis at Total Pain Care, she felt strongly that she could benefit from additional education in pain management. "Managing pain is not something I was taught in school, but it's all I've ever done. I really wanted to get more formalized training in the field," she says. A Google search took her to the University of Connecticut's (UConn) online graduate certificate website. There she found exactly what she was looking for: the UConn Pain Management Online Graduate Certificate program.
Online - a huge plus
The fact that the program was fully online was a big plus for Ashley. "Having access to the program online broadened my options because I live in Mississippi, yet I could still get the caliber of education offered through UConn without having to be physically onsite. There just isn't anything like UConn's program near me," says Ashley, who adds that the online platform was second nature, since she had done her nurse practitioner program online using Blackboard.
Another benefit of the online platform? Ashley not only works, but she has two children. "Between my job and kids, it was so beneficial being able to do the coursework around my schedule."
Ashley also says she was pleasantly surprised by the level of discussions throughout the program. "It's not like being on campus, of course, but we had terrific class discussions. Best of all, I was able to connect with many different types of professionals from all over the country who work in pain management. It was so interesting to learn how they manage patients living with chronic pain and seeing how things are done differently depending on their geographic location."
Beyond her comfort zone
So what about course content? As Ashley notes, all four courses were very thorough and addressed pain management as it relates to a wide range of patients, including infants. “The first course, NURS 5101: Fundamental Mechanisms of Acute and Chronic Pain, was my favorite. The course reviewed the various pathways of pain, getting at its root causes. It was a great refresher for what I do every day,” says Ashley, who adds: “We also delved into areas that were out of my comfort zone, which I really appreciated. For example, while I worked at Children’s of Mississippi Hospital at the University of Mississippi Medical Center early on in my career, pain management in babies was not something I had been exposed to. In the course, we learned a lot about how infants process pain differently and how it affects them later in life.”
She also greatly appreciated Dr. Mallory Perry, who taught all four courses. “Dr. Perry was wonderful. She was always available and encouraging. As we know, 2020 was a crazy year. She recognized how hard it was for students like me who were working with patients through telemedicine, while at the same time, homeschooling our kids. She made the program so much more manageable because she really understood what we were going through.”
Trust leads to more referrals
Now that Ashley has earned the Pain Management Online Graduate Certificate, she’s noticed that physicians in the area are referring more patients to her. “Thanks to having gone through the UConn program, area physicians are increasingly acknowledging that I have formal credentials in the field and am very knowledgeable in pain management,” which she says, goes a long way toward establishing trust. In addition, the 12 graduate credits Ashley earned will be applied to education credits that she is required to have in order to be certified by the American Society of Pain Management Nurses.
In conclusion, Ashley says: “Sadly, pain is not seen as a disease process and is often stigmatized. The program helped me understand pain management much better to ultimately provide better treatment for our patients. I highly recommend anyone interested in more formal training in pain management to consider applying for this incredible program.