Office of Research & Development

VA Researchers Who Served: Dr. Matthew Bair



Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center

April 5, 2018

Dr. Matthew Bair is seen with his mother, Chris Bair, during his Army days.
Dr. Matthew Bair is seen with his mother, Chris Bair, during his Army days.

Dr. Matthew Bair is seen with his mother, Chris Bair, during his Army days.

Dr. Matthew Bair, an Army Veteran, is a general internist and pain researcher at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis and an associate professor of medicine at Indiana University. His long-term research goal is to develop and test therapies that combine pharmacologic and non-pharmacologic treatments. The treatments will address some of the barriers to pain management and can be applied in primary care settings. He’s a core investigator in the VA HSR&D Center for Health Information and Communication, which is aiming to transform the health care system, both within and outside of VA, so all patients receive consistent, high-quality care. He has served on national VA committees on improving pain management.



What drove you to military service?

To be honest, I was trying to find a way to finance my medical school tuition and not be burdened by debt. So I applied for and was awarded a scholarship through the Army’s health professions scholarship program. I’m so grateful for my military service. It changed my life because of the people I met and the experiences I had.



What inspired your research career?

I was inspired by the inability of myself and my colleagues to manage chronic pain effectively and to relieve soldiers and their family members of pain. I turned to medical literature and clinical guidelines for answers to my questions about managing pain but found none. That was frustrating! I became inspired to find answers through my research on how to manage chronic pain conditions better.



Did you have mentors who inspired you in life, the military, or your research career?

My research and professional career have been inspired the most by Dr. Kurt Kroenke. Dr. Kroenke had an accomplished 20-year Army career prior to coming to Indiana University. He and I first met at a meeting of the Society of General Internal Medicine. He convinced me to pursue a research fellowship. When I arrived in 2001 at Regenstrief Institute, a healthcare research organization affiliated with Indiana University, Dr. Kroenke became my fellowship director and primary mentor. He was a tremendous mentor, and any success I have had is due to his tutelage.



When and where did you serve in the military? Describe your military experience.

I started my internal medicine residency at Fitzsimons Army Medical Center in Denver. Unfortunately, Fitzsimons was closed by the Base Realignment and Closure plan, so I spent my third year of internal medicine at Colorado University. From 1997 to 2001, I served at Fort Sam Houston and Brooke Army Medical Center, both of which are in San Antonio. I treated active duty soldiers, family members, and retirees in the general medicine clinic. I also spent time at Fort Sill in Oklahoma to “back-fill” for a physician who was deployed to Bosnia.



What kinds of research are you involved in? How does it potentially impact Veterans?

I’m involved in research to improve pain management in the primary care setting. We’re trying to find the most optimal combination of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatments for chronic musculoskeletal conditions, such as low back pain, osteoarthritis, and fibromyalgia. For the last 10 years, my team and I have conducted clinical trials testing treatments, including yoga, exercise, cognitive behavioral therapy, massage, self-management programs, and algorithm-based medications.

Dr. Matthew Bair is a general internist and pain researcher at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis
Dr. Matthew Bair is a general internist and pain researcher at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.

Dr. Matthew Bair is a general internist and pain researcher at the Richard L. Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis.



Did your military experience inspire you to pursue a career as a VA researcher? Is your military experience connected in some way to your VA research?

Yes. I truly loved caring for military personnel and their families. Working and conducting research in VA feels like “home.” I truly believe in VA’s mission to serve Veterans.



How do you feel about the possibility of making life better for Veterans through your research?

Many Veterans suffer from chronic pain, which often leads to disability, detriments in quality of life, and depression. Because so many Veterans suffer, the ultimate goal in my research is to reduce pain and suffering for them. I want to conduct research that makes a difference in Veterans’ lives.



Does being a Veteran give you a greater emotional tie to the work you’re doing or more insight into Veterans’ needs?

Being a Veteran provides shared experiences, a shared language, and a shared culture with my patients and research participants. All of that helps me establish a rapport and develop a lasting bond with them.



Based on your life experiences to date, what do you believe are the keys to success? What motivational tips would you share?

I like legendary basketball coach John Wooden’s definition of success the most: “Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming."



What’s the next step for you in your VA career?

I’d like to conduct a multi-site clinical trial to evaluate complementary and integrative treatments for chronic low back pain. I want to find new treatments or combinations of treatments that reduce pain and suffering the most.


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