May Member Spotlight: Rebecca Burch, MD, FAHS

Rebecca Burch shares her headache story and passion for research and education

This May, we are putting the spotlight on Rebecca Burch, MD, FAHS, a member of the American Headache Society whose professional knowledge and enthusiasm for research and education have advanced the field of headache science.

An AHS member since 2011, Burch is the current chair of the Migraine and Vascular Disease Special Interest Section and is a member of the Women’s Issues and Refractory, Inpatient & Emergency Care Special Interest Sections.

The longitudinal relationships that doctors form with their patients were what drew Burch to headache medicine. She also cites the psychosocial component of headache as a reason behind her interest in the field. Burch also has a family history of headache, experiences them herself and has young children who are showing signs of migraine. “I get headache pretty rarely, often enough to know what it feels like but not often enough to affect my work,” Burch says.

Burch says that, over time, her career has evolved from primarily clinical work to include more time focused on education and research. In her current role as Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, Burch’s focus on the effects of migraine in women stems from her curiosity around how migraine is treated during women’s life events, such as pregnancy, lactation and menstruation. She is also interested in how a diagnosis of migraine with aura affects treatment in women.

“We know that migraine is more common in women than in men,” said Burch. “We don’t have very good data about how prevalent migraine is in potentially reproductive women, but we do know that there’s a substantive burden of migraine in women of reproductive age.”

Other research interests are typically driven by her patients. “When a patient asks a question I can’t answer, it inspires me to think about ways to develop more evidence,” she says.

As a professor, Burch teaches a wide range of educational levels, from students to headache fellows to medical professionals in large CME courses. She’s written several introductory review articles about headache and treatment of headache in women, and she has lectured on headache for national programs such as the Oakstone Neurology courses.

“We need more headache specialists, but specialists are never going to be able to reach everyone,” said Burch. “Headache is one of the most universally experienced human symptoms, and migraine affects 1 in 4 households in the U.S. It is imperative to educate our peers and trainees how to recognize and manage the most common headache types so that patients visiting primary care physicians or other non-headache specialists will be well cared for.”

On top of all of her achievements, Burch is the inaugural chair of the Neurology Department’s Wellness Committee, which aims to decrease physician burnout.

“People who work with patients in chronic pain have very high levels of burnout,” said Burch. “The committee implemented recognition awards and community outreach programs, among other efforts, to improve professional satisfaction. When we feel more satisfied and less burnt-out, we take better care of our patients.”

About Rebecca Burch

Name: Rebecca Burch, MD, FAHS

AHS Membership: Member since 2011

Primary: Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women’s Department of Neurology, John R. Graham Headache Center

Quote: Headache medicine is maturing. We’re changing from a field where we’ve done a lot of individual studies, retrospective chart reviews and smaller-scale research to a field where we’re able to do larger studies with more representative samples. I’m excited to imagine what we will know about migraine pathophysiology and treatment by the time my children are adults.

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