Dr. Rebecca Andrews: 2020 Women of Innovation® Post-Secondary Academic Innovation & Leadership Finalist
“I love my job and that is a gift. I have never said, oh I can’t go to work today.”
Though her favorite part about her job is patient care, Dr. Rebecca Andrews is more than just a doctor who sees patients. Recently promoted to a full-time professor, Rebecca is also a Primary Care Physician, Internal Medicine Residency Associate Program Director, and their Director of Ambulatory Education at UConn Health. Rebecca also serves as UConn Health’s clinical lead for the CT Comprehensive Pain Center and Patient-Centered Medical Home. Her research and pedagogy combine innovative curricula and clinical experiences focused on pain management and primary care.
Rebecca loves her patients, but every job has its struggles. For Rebecca, the toughest part is getting the patient to understand the limitations of our healthcare system. According to the Annals of Internal Medicine study, for every hour of patient care, doctors spend two hours on paperwork. The average patient sees only the care they receive at the moment, but doctors spend significant amounts of time writing letters to insurance companies on behalf of patients, jumping through hoops to get an x-ray or urgent appointment scheduled.
Rebecca is passionate about combating the overdose epidemic through student and physician education on safe and effective chronic pain management. She praised Connecticut’s ongoing efforts to develop preventative and reductive measures for accidental opioid overdose.
The education around the dangers of opioids has been ineffective, which is why Rebecca has been working on new innovative ways to get the risks across to patients. “Once you have that honest conversation, you can make a plan on how to move forward and help the patient with acceptance and to be the best they can be.” Being able to do that effectively is a skillset. Rebecca teaches creative ways to get doctors and patients alike to acknowledge that conversations around opioids are difficult, and then be able to put that aside and help the patient feel better. Her residents in training role play having those conversations as part of their patient care training and it has made a huge difference in acquiring case management skills.
Dealing with chronic pain is frustrating for doctors and patients alike because there is no permanent solution to it. For doctors, studies show that 60% do not feel comfortable in their ability to treat chronic pain[i]. They seek answers to urgent questions. How do we give people with chronic pain functionality and enable them to live a less painful life? How do we mitigate the danger of high-risk medication? These are the questions the opioid task force co-chaired by Rebecca and the CT Comprehensive Pain Center are researching. To do this they are investigating how providers deal with chronic pain while also capturing the patient experience. Their goal is to foster doctors who will be able to treat chronic pain comfortably. Her team is focused on identifying the right techniques in teaching residents that best inspire and instill confidence in treating chronic pain. “UConn has allowed me to be very creative and provide an opportunity for real-life training so residents can see what primary care is like.”
When not working one of her many jobs, Rebecca is spending time with family. She also loves hiking, kayaking, reading, and recently ran a half-marathon. To keep a work-life balance, she encourages friends and family to tell her when she needs to take a break! For Rebecca work-life balance is a “nicely choreographed dance where work sometimes takes the lead, then home takes the lead and the moment.” She has to remind herself to “take deep breaths and create a priority list. In the end, it all comes down to communication.” During the pandemic, when it’s easier to work long hours, Rebecca makes sure she is communicating with her family. At times when she has to attend webinars during dinner, she gives her children a choice of watching the webinar with her during dinner or waiting until she is done.
What inspires Rebecca to get up in the morning?
Not all inspirations have to be work-related and they definitely aren’t for Rebecca, who gets up every morning because of her love for her children. Being a Mom is central to her life, and she’s not sure what she’ll do when her oldest goes to college this year. Her father died young, so she knows time is not to be wasted and instead focuses on the adventures and possibilities of life.
Overall, Rebecca is known for her exceptionally positive attitude! Everyone has a day where they are down, but it can be managed with the right attitude. “I need time to be sad, but I look at things through a positive lens. Being primarily positive does not mean you can’t be negative every once in a while. As long as you are not consumed by sadness.”
So, what’s next for Rebecca?
Along with continuing her research, Rebecca is passionate about achieving gender equity and guiding doctors and researchers to find their passion for research and patient care. She enjoys being a mentor for female residents and faculty alike. “A lot of people helped me get where I am, so I am eager to pay it forward.” Rebecca has shifted her focus and energy on the comprehensive pain center at UConn.
Advice for future doctors: “Make sure you are ready! Even if that means taking a year off for traveling or pursuing a hobby. Make sure you are ready. If you go into it knowing what to expect, having fulfilled the curiosity in life, you will be better prepared, more well-rounded, and take better care of your patients.”
Advice for Life: “Happiness can be learned, and life is truly something to appreciate.” Do a yearlong gratitude challenge; write down one thing in detail that you are grateful for every day. It could be small, but it needs to be detailed. “I did that for a year. It changed my perspective and helped me find the beauty in life every day and that is the best way to find work/life balance.”
[i] J Grad Med Educ. 2010 Jun; 2(2): 260-268