Established over forty years ago, the Midwest Nursing Research Society is a place for nurse scientists and researchers at all career levels to learn, collaborate, and grow the field. Dr. Barbara Rakel received the 2022 MNRS Distinguished Contribution Award, which recognizes the scientific contribution of a member whose research has advanced the science and practice of nursing in the region.
Dr. Barbara Rakel is a leading scholar in pain management, with an innovative program of research and the external funds to support it. Her work to document the mechanisms and efficacy of transcutaneous electrical nerve simulation (TENS) is important to scientists and practitioners in a variety of fields, from nursing and medicine to physical therapy. Evidence from her research underpins the American Pain Society guidelines regarding the use of TENS for acute post-operative pain management. Rakel’s vast body of research led to contributions that advance understanding of movement-evoked pain, identify at-risk populations to target pain treatments, demonstrate efficacy of non-pharmacologic pain interventions, and create a bridge between research evidence and implementation to clinical practice.
Recently, Rakel and her team focused on pain and function in patients following total knee replacement and identified risk factors for persistent pain and disability six months following surgery. They are currently evaluating the use of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) as a preventive strategy for these patients identified as ‘at-risk’ for poor surgical pain outcomes. A pilot feasibility study demonstrated beneficial effects of a one-day ACT intervention among veterans undergoing orthopedic surgery – veterans randomly assigned to ACT reported a larger decrease in pain intensity three months post-surgery and reached pain and opioid cessation criteria sooner. A large clinical trial is ongoing to further evaluate the efficacy of ACT and has the potential to change how patients are prepared for surgery.
Dr. Rakel has a long history with the College of Nursing, completing her BSN, MA, PhD, and Post-doctoral Fellowship at the College and beginning her teaching career as an adjunct instructor in 1993. Her history with the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics runs nearly as deep, beginning in 1980 with a staff nurse position in thoracic-cardiovascular surgery. Rakel later went on to work as a cardiothoracic transplant coordinator, advanced practice nurse, quality improvement coordinator, and research nurse specialist before becoming an assistant professor in 2005.
She currently serves as the Associate Dean for Research and Scholarship and co-director of the Center for Advancing Multimorbidity Science. She is a highly regarded and dedicated mentor and advisor, both inside and outside the College. In 2019, Rakel received the prestigious Regent’s Award for Faculty Excellence, recognizing her excellence in scholarship and teaching, and was awarded the Rita and David Frantz Endowed Professorship in the College of Nursing that same year.