2019 Tillman Scholar

Kirk Butler

University of Minnesota
DNP, Anesthesia

“I want to advocate for better pain management strategies to prevent the damaging effects of chronic pain on a veteran’s health.”

Coming from a family of military veterans, Kirk was no stranger to the call of service. After 9/11, he was compelled to join the military. On his first assignment in the Pacific, he recognized the impact an anesthetist could have on a soldier’s health, which led him on a career trajectory towards critical care and nursing anesthesia.

When a leadership opportunity with a combat unit became available, Kirk was charged with advocating for the health of 4,000 members of a brigade. The experience exposed him to the damaging effects of war on Soldiers coming back from deployment. During this time, he found it gratifying to mentor medics in their training and providing care for the health of soldiers. These experiences would lead him back to the bedside to pursue nurse anesthesia.

Veterans represent a unique population where chronic pain issues affect the community with higher prevalence rates than civilians. His practice will focus on addressing the chronic pain of veterans. Chronic pain is the most common denominator to many of the harmful effects on veterans’ mental health, many times resulting in depression, substance abuse and addictive behaviors. Veterans with untreated chronic pain can lead to unhealthy coping alternatives such as alcohol, drugs, and risky lifestyle choices. Better pain management strategies can prevent the damaging effects that unremedied chronic pain can have on a veteran’s health. As a CRNA, Kirk looks to use his novel perspective to support the improvement of pain management modalities to improve veteran healthcare.