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Robert Kerns, PhD

Senior Research Scientist



Dr. Robert D. Kerns is Professor Emeritus and Senior Research Scientist of Psychiatry at Yale University. He is one of three directors of the Yale-based NIH-DOD-VA Pain Management Collaboratory Coordinating Center. He retired from VA Connecticut Healthcare System (VACHS) and service to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) in 2016 following a nearly 38-year career during which time he served as VACHS Chief of Psychology (1987-2008) and founding Director of the Pain Research, Informatics, Multimorbidities and Education (PRIME) Center of Innovation (2008-2016), and as VA National Program Director for Pain Management (2006-2013). He received his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from West Virginia University in 1974 and his doctorate in Bioclinical Psychology from Southern Illinois University in 1980. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Association and of the Society of Behavioral Medicine, and he has held leadership positions in these and other professional and scientific societies.

He is the recipient of numerous awards including the 2006 Leadership Award from the Association of VA Psychologist Leaders, the 2006 David M. Worthen Award for Academic Excellence and the 2006 Mark Wolcott Award for Clinical Leadership from the VHA, and the 2010 John and Emma Bonic Public Service Award and 2017 Wilbert E. Fordyce Clinical Investigator Award from the American Pain Society. He has served on the editorial board of several scientific journals, and he is currently Executive Editor of Pain Medicine. He was a member of the Institute of Medicine Committee on Advancing Pain Research, Care and Education and of the National Pain Management Strategy Oversight Panel that developed a National Pain Strategy for transforming pain care in America. He also served as co-chair of the Federal Interagency Workgroup that produced a National Action Plan for Prevention of Opioid-related Adverse Drug Events. He served as a member of the Interagency Pain Research Coordinating Committee, a Federal advisory committee created by the Department of Health and Human Services to enhance pain research efforts and promote collaboration across the government, with the ultimate goals of advancing the fundamental understanding of pain and improving pain-related treatment strategies.

Dr. Kerns’ primary area of scholarly and academic interest is in the fields of behavioral medicine and health psychology, with a more specific interest and expertise in the area of pain and pain management. He has published over 400 peer-reviewed articles, chapters, and books, and he frequently delivers invited addresses at professional and scientific meetings. His research has been funded through the VA, the NIH, and through other federal and private sources for 40 years. His current research focuses on the design and conduct of large, pragmatic clinical trials of nonpharmacological approaches in veteran and military health settings, use of large datasets from VA to study pain and pain care among veterans, especially age, gender, and race/ethnicity differences and disparities; developing informatics solutions for extracting information from unstructured electronic health record notes; mechanisms and processes of change during psychological interventions for chronic pain; use of innovative technologies to promote access and fidelity of nonpharmacological pain interventions; and formative evaluation and implementation of organizational improvement initiatives in pain care.

Education & Training

  • PhD
    Southern Illinois University (1980)


  • Pain Readiness
    Norway (2008-2012)
    A series of projects designed to further assess the predictive validity and utility of the pain readiness to change model, particularly among persons with arthritis.
  • Multidimensional Pain Readiness to Change Questionnaire
    Canada 2008
    The present study describes further development of the Multidimensional Pain Readiness to Change Questionnaire (MPRCQ.V2), a measure of readiness to adopt a variety of pain management and coping strategies commonly taught in multidisciplinary treatment programs.

Honors & Recognition

AwardAwarding OrganizationDate
2016 Wilbert E. Fordyce Clinical Investigator AwardAmerican Pain Society2020
Nathan W. Perry, Jr. Award for Career Service to Health PsychologySociety for Health Psychology, American Psychological Association2016
Distinguished Psychologist for Scientific AchievementPsychology Service, VA Connecticut Healthcare System2016
Presidential CitationAmerican Psychological Association2014
Bonica Professorship and LecturerUniversity of Washington2011
John and Emma Bonica Public Service AwardAmerican Pain Society2010
Pfizer Visiting ProfessorshipAmerican Academy of Pain Medicine2009
Patient Advocacy AwardAmerican Academy of Pain Medicine2008
2006 Mark Wolcott Award for Clinical LeadershipVeterans Health Administration2007
2006 David M Worthen Award for Academic ExcellenceVeterans Health Administration2007
2006 Leadership AwardAssociation of VA Psychologist Leaders2006

Professional Service

Health and Human ServicesMember2017 - 2021
Health and Human ServicesFederal Interagency Workgroup on Adverse Drug Events - Opioids2012 - Present
School of MedicinePain Management Curriculum Committee2012 - Present
Analgesic, Anesthetic, and Addictions Clinical Trials Translation, Innovation and Opportunities NetworkExecutive Committee2012 - Present
Health PsychologyEditorial Board2010 - Present
Annals of Behavioral MedicineEditorial Board2010 - Present
Department of PsychiatryTenured Faculty Committee2003 - Present
Yale University School of MedicineBoard of Permanent Officers2003 - Present
Pain MedicineSenior Editor2002 - Present
Clinical Journal of PainEditorial Board1995 - Present
American Chronic Pain AssociationProfessional Advisory Board1993 - Present

Departments & Organizations