Cofounder and CEO Jennie Shulkin, J.D., was a nationally ranked tennis and squash player and a student at the University of Pennsylvania when she suffered two head injuries within a year-and-a-half. Soon after, she developed a complex chronic pain syndrome affecting multiple parts of her body that eluded medication, surgery, and other interventions. As best she could, Jennie continued living her life – graduating from Harvard Law school and building a career in law.
All the while, she carried the burden of the agonizing, time-consuming, expensive, and both physically and emotionally painful journey of seeking pain relief. She learned firsthand what the saying, "When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail," meant as she traveled all over the country to various doctors, health systems, pain rehab programs, and alternative medicine providers who promoted a single medication, intervention, or other treatment as the solution. When each treatment failed, the providers shrugged, sent her away, and told her she was "out of options."
Adding to the frustration was that many of the doctors, physical therapists, and psychologists Jennie consulted held themselves out as chronic pain experts but were far from it in reality. And even when they understood that a team-based approach to care is most effective for people with chronic pain, they had little time to or interest in communicating with other professionals treating Jennie. The result was, for example, the doctor sending messages to Jennie that contradicted those of the physical therapist or psychologist. It felt impossible to know how to understand her pain, who to trust, and what could best help her.
Jennie knew there had to be a better way. Joining forces with her father, she began creating a solution that she herself and others in chronic pain needed but did not exist elsewhere: a comprehensive, team-based approach to care that is truly based in contemporary pain science principles and is guided by providers who actually understand and know how to treat chronic pain. She sought to take the burden off the patients of finding pain-trained providers and make them accessible to people everywhere from the comfort of their own homes. No other digital health company provides this type of resource.
Finally, to address the loneliness and isolation of living with chronic pain that Jennie knows all too well, community became an integral part of the approach. Having a support system of a doctor, physical therapist, pain psychologist, and pain coach all working together to support a patient's goals is a huge deviation from the norm. Additionally, peer support from other people with chronic pain who get it – primarily through group coaching sessions – makes a big difference. Nobody should have to navigate chronic pain alone.
Over the past several years, Jennie has come to accept that she may never be fully free from pain. But she has learned that there are more and less effective ways to interact with the pain and to build a fulfilling life. She wants you to see that, too.
A sample of Jennie's writing related to pain:
Cofounder and Executive Chairman David Shulkin, M.D., is a physician executive who has spent his career leading major health systems like Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City and Morristown Memorial Hospital in northern New Jersey. In 2015, President Obama asked him to serve as the US Department of Veterans Affairs' Undersecretary for Health, and in 2017, President Trump named him as Secretary of the VA. He is also Jennie's father.
During his time in government, he implemented a program called "Whole Health" in large part to address the White House agenda of reducing veterans' reliance on opioids. The three central aspects of the program were: a team-based approach to care, peer support, and self-care (i.e., giving a veteran the tools to take control of his/her own chronic condition rather than passively depending on a medical provider to do so). The results of this program for chronic pain patients are truly extraordinary.
With about 60% of veterans suffering from chronic pain, as well as his own daughter, creating a higher standard of care for chronic pain management was a natural fit for David. He brings his first-hand experience of running the VA, as well as his passion for tackling healthcare's hardest problems, to the Global Pain Center. Now, the Global Pain Center makes the Whole Health approach to chronic pain available to veterans and nonveterans – all on a digital platform.
David appears frequently in the media as an author of articles and a guest on cable news shows. He is an expert on veterans, the opioid epidemic, and chronic pain:
In October 2019, David's book, "It Shouldn't Be This Hard to Serve Your Country" was published on David's experience running the VA during both the Obama and Trump administrations. It's a story about leadership, healthcare, and the VA – as well as a personal memoir about David's own service. Jennie acted as the primary ghost writer and editor.
To learn more about David's VA service, you can view this video.