De La Rosa accepted into pain group’s leadership academy

April 29, 2024

Jennifer S. De La Rosa, PhD,  director of strategy at the University of Arizona Health Sciences’ Comprehensive Center for Pain & Addiction, was accepted into the United States Association for the Study of Pain Leadership Academy

Portrait of Jennifer S. De La Rosa

Jennifer S. De La Rosa, PhD

De La Rosa, who is an assistant research professor at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson, was one of 11 professionals selected for the new program, which aims to develop leaders in the field of pain research.

De La Rosa is a medical sociologist and data scientist specializing in treatment quality and utilization, workforce development, stigma and health equity in the areas of chronic pain, substance use and mental illness. She said the association’s mission to promote scientific advances to reduce the burden of pain is compelling and called the academy “an incredible opportunity.”

“I am personally inspired by their approach of bringing diverse professionals together – scientists, clinicians and policymakers – to translate science into action,” she said. “I am committed to making the most of this opportunity.”

Seizing on opportunities is how De La Rosa operates, no matter what she does, said Todd Vanderah, PhD, director of the Comprehensive Center for Pain & Addiction, a Regents Professor and head of the College of Medicine – Tucson’s Department of Pharmacology.

“Dr. De La Rosa is an integral part of the Comprehensive Center for Pain & Addiction leadership team in part due to her abilities to publish peer-reviewed manuscripts, direct federal grants and teach and mentor others while directing the center’s strategic initiatives,” he said. “She upholds the greatest respect for all team members and puts 100% effort into everything she does.”

Vanderah also said De La Rosa’s acceptance into the academy is well deserved.

“Jennifer is incredibly intelligent. One of the things I value most about her is that she truly cares about her work and the people who will ultimately benefit,” he said. “Her recent research into the relationship of chronic pain and mental health issues uncovered a great need in our society. When addressed, that could improve the lives of millions of people.”

As part of the yearlong program, De La Rosa will have a mentor and participate in regular peer-group meetings. It also includes a capstone project, in which De La Rosa will include her research dedicated to understanding the relationship between mental health and chronic pain.

“We learned that more than half of people living with unremitted anxiety and depression are those with chronic pain,” she said. “And yet, chronic pain is rarely considered as part of our national mental health conversation, if at all.”   

The topic is very personal to De La Rosa, who came to Tucson as a doctoral student in sociology. She said her mother, an occupational therapist, was acutely aware of mental illness and pain because she took care of her own mother, who suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and depression. De La Rosa’s mother joined the faculty at Texas Women’s University to help train future occupational therapists.

“I hope that my work in the area of chronic pain and mental health honors my mother’s lived experiences, professional accomplishments and the deep well of empathy, courage and hope that she has willingly offered to so many,” she said.  

De La Rosa is also the principal investigator of PeerWORKS and the director of evaluation for Project FUTRE, which are Health Resources and Services Administration-funded collaborations with the College of Medicine – Tucson’s Department of Family and Community Medicine’s Workforce Development Program. Both programs train, certify and place opioid-impacted individuals and family members in community-provider roles, offering support to people with similar lived experiences.

She also directs evaluation of Arizona Cannabis Education, or AzCANN, an Arizona Department of Health Services-funded program that provides interprofessional and general public education events on safer adult use of cannabis.