Back in 1999, Afton Hassett, PsyD, attended her first ACR/ARHP Annual Meeting, after receiving the suggestion from Leonard Sigal, MD, a professor of medicine in the Division of Rheumatology at Rutgers University’s Robert Wood Johnson Medical School (RWJMS). Since 2003, Dr. Sigal has served as a volunteer Clinical Professor at the school. At the time, Dr. Hassett was completing her dissertation, which explored the relationship between pain and depression in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.
“I joined the ARHP at that point, and it has been my home ever since,” says Dr. Hassett, the ARHP’s new president who is also a clinical psychologist and associate research scientist in the department of anesthesiology at the University of Michigan (U-M). “I was just transfixed. It was exciting to meet so many dedicated, interdisciplinary individuals who were all devoted to caring for patients with rheumatic disease.”
Dr. Hassett brings a unique combination of skills and experience to the ARHP leadership role and supports ambitious goals for the organization. During her presidency, she plans to expand opportunities for online learning, provide more networking opportunities via social media, increase research opportunities and translate their findings into clinical practice, and build relationships with the ARHP’s global partners.
“There’s much to learn from our colleagues around the world,” says Dr. Hassett. “More than anything, I’m very optimistic about the future of ARHP.”
Dr. Hassett received her doctorate degree in clinical psychology from Alliant International University in 2000. While completing her internship at Trenton Psychiatric Hospital, she also had an externship at RWJMS. Her research focused on pain in patients with rheumatic diseases, with special attention given to the different ways in which patients perceived and coped with pain. After joining the school’s faculty, she received a K08 award from the National Institute of Mental Health that supported her pain research and provided her with advanced training in neuroscience at Princeton University between 2002 and 2004.
“I became very interested in the neural mechanisms underlying psychological processes, such as stress, depression and pain,” says Dr. Hassett. “Yet it always seemed like there was more to the story. In the last 10 years, I have increasingly focused on the remarkable resilience of our patients and how to identify and cultivate each patient’s unique strengths.”
A Positive Approach
Dr. Hassett currently studies pain and resilience at the Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center at U-M, under the direction of rheumatologist Daniel J. Clauw, MD. She focuses on the innate strengths that make patients resilient to pain, enabling them to live more happy and productive lives. Likewise, she creates interventions that help patients develop such beneficial strengths.