Rebecca Erwin Wells: Member Spotlight
Dr. Wells believes in a team-based approach to care and empowering providers to fight headache stigma
Our November Member Spotlight is Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, MPH, FAHS. As a member of the American Headache Society since 2010, Dr. Wells is involved in multiple Special Interest Sections: Behavioral Issues, Women’s Health, New Investigators & Trainees, and Complementary and Integrative Medicine.
Dr. Wells uses her training as a mindfulness meditation instructor to deliver compassionate care. She is very curious to know if mind-body treatment options can help those with headache, and, if they do, how they work. Her level of interest in this area has earned her funding from the National Institutes of Health to help better understand the mind-body connection as it relates to headache.
Dr. Wells says her passion for her field is not limited to her work itself, but what it does for and inspires in others.
“I find so much joy in practicing in a field of medicine where you see dramatic improvements from helping people with their headaches,” Dr. Wells says. “Being able to pass that joy on to other providers can improve care for all patients.”
Researching the Mind-Body Connection
While finishing her neurology residency, Dr. Wells realized that she had an opportunity to research one of her lifelong interests: the mind-body connection. She then pursued a research fellowship in complementary and integrative medicine at Harvard University. She also obtained a master’s degree in public health in order to “gain the clinical skills to conduct rigorous research on techniques that are typically considered less-than-rigorous.” Dr. Wells then sought a headache fellowship at the Graham Headache Center in Boston.
During her headache fellowship, Dr. Wells visited experts across the country who allowed her to see their headache programs and learn from their models of care. She used what she learned to found the Comprehensive Headache Program at Wake Forest Baptist Health Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, when she arrived in 2012.
Dr. Wells says she is pleased with the team approach to headache care that she has created.
“Building this multidisciplinary, comprehensive headache program and using it to provide patients with the best possible care is really important to me,” Dr. Wells says. “Patients with headache often experience tremendous suffering. It’s really important for me to be able to provide the best care possible on multiple levels.”
Empowering Providers and Patients
In her clinical practice, Dr. Wells finds joy in both improving the lives of those with migraine and in the diagnostic dilemma of a challenging headache that may have a secondary cause. Part of her passion for headache medicine comes from her view that the field was, for many years, overlooked. She also notes that headache was very stigmatized for a long time for both patients and providers, but that doctors have the ability to fight this problem.
In this spirit, Dr. Wells helped establish a monthly multi-disciplinary headache case conference to discuss complicated headache patients with a multitude of different specialists. She says it serves to provide excellent care for complex patients, and is an opportunity for headache providers to engage, support, and learn from each other in meaningful ways.
Empowering patients to dispel that stigma is important, Dr. Wells says. But so is teaching other providers about how serious headache actually is.
“We must educate other providers about the science and the pathophysiology behind headache disorders like migraine,” she says. “It enables and empowers physicians to recognize that this isn’t ‘just a headache’—this is a neurobiological condition.”
Gratitude for AHS
Dr. Wells attended her first Scottsdale meeting in 2010 as a Symposium Scholarship recipient and was immediately impressed with AHS. She loved what she could learn in headache medicine that had a direct application for the patients she was treating. She also was inspired by the compassionate and collegial members and leaders dedicated to headache medicine. From there, she received an AHS Fellowship award in 2011, which allowed her to then complete a Headache Medicine fellowship, and she spent five years on the AHS Scottsdale Planning Committee to help organize the meeting that provides such excellent education to providers.
Dr. Wells believes that attending that first Scottsdale meeting changed her career path. She pinpoints this experience as the moment when she decided to shift her research focus to match her clinical interests. Migraine and other headache disorders are now an integral part of her life.
“It’s the focus of my entire career,” she says. “I really enjoy being able to provide compassionate care to individuals who are suffering from headache and to also conduct rigorous headache clinical research.”
About Rebecca Wells
Name: Rebecca Erwin Wells, MD, MPH, FAHS
AHS Membership: Member since 2010
Primary: Founder and director of the Comprehensive Headache Program at Wake Forest Baptist Health Center in Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Quote: “In addition to my interest in clinical care, I also really love inspiring others to both enjoy headache medicine and recognize the value of clinical research in headache.”