“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.”