For many doctors, simply curing their patients’ physical ailments is work enough. But for one local healthcare professional, this is only part of the process. Dr. Bennet E. Davis, director of the pain recovery program at Sierra Tucson, won the award for Outstanding Pain Management at Tucson Local Media’s 2019 Influential Health and Medical Leaders Awards on Wednesday, June 12.
“I’d like to dedicate this to the patients who make me a better physician,” Davis said from the podium. “I’d like to thank everyone.”
Although he’s currently winning awards for healthcare and leading groundbreaking research in “integrated care,” medicine is actually the third career for Davis. Prior to earning his certifications in anesthesiology and pain medicine, Davis served in the military and studied marine biology. But it was an interest in sports medicine leading to a fellowship in Manchester, England that set him on his current course.
“When I was in England, I saw a healthcare field that really worked,” Davis said. “They combined mind and body medicine… Mental health has a lot to do with how people are feeling physically.”
While currently directing the pain recovery program for Tucson's premiere residential treatment center for addiction and behavioral health, Davis’ career has involved many other centers. Davis served as founder and director of the University of Arizona’s Pain Center from 1995 to 2002, and founded the Integrative Pain Center for Arizona in 2002.
“Dr. Davis has really extensive experience in pain management,” said Dr. Jasleen Chhatwal, director of the mood program at Sierra Tucson. “He takes a complete and holistic approach to pain management, and tries to see his patient’s conditions from all perspectives.”
Through his career, Davis has focused on bringing together the fields of behavioral and medical care. He believes in treating pain from multiple sides: behavioral types of treatment like therapy, and medicinal types of treatment like surgery. His process of patient care begins with asking where on their body is in pain, and then more often than not, moving onto the nervous system.
“It begins with, ‘Where does it hurt?’ but as you do that you realize, ‘Wow, there’s a lot more going on here than just physical trauma,’” Davis said. “In this country we simply don’t screen for those other kinds of trauma.”
Davis makes an important distinction, however. The pain his patients often experience isn’t explicitly mental, but found in the nervous system as a connecting point between the physical and mental. He says in his work, roughly 80 percent of the time, the nervous system is one of the issues, if not the main issue causing a patient’s pain.
“A lot of Americans don’t realize that so much of their pain can come from this, or they don’t want it to be so,” Davis said. “You have to combine treatments.”
According to Chhatwal, Davis also works closely and personally to help his patients. He sees patients from across the country, and even internationally, studying their medical history closely.
“He’s very hard working, obviously,” Chhatwal said. “When the patients actually come to the facility, he already knows all about them.”
In 2016, Davis wrote the article "A new paradigm for pain?" in The Journal of Family Practice where he explored various definitions of pain, writing, "The care of people with pain has been wrought with ineffective and unnecessary treatment, including the misuse of opioids, largely because we do not have an accurate conceptualization of pain… enough evidence exists to help family physicians develop an understanding of pain that goes beyond what we learned in medical school and that can help us more effectively treat patients with pain.”
Looking forward, Davis plans to continue working to combine behavioral health and medicine to better understand and treat pain in all of its forms.