The Rosa Schwarz Cifu Professor in Cancer Rehabilitation in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Director, Virginia Commonwealth Traumatic Brain Injury Model System of Care

2010 recipient of the Distinguished Lifetime Contribution to Neuropsychology Award from the National Academy of Neuropsychology

People who sustain traumatic brain injury experience dramatic changes in their lives, as do their families. Jeffrey Kreutzer, Ph.D., ABPP, FACRM, who directs the medical school’s program in rehabilitation psychology and neuropsychology, knows how important it is to take time with patients and their families to address changes in physical abilities, psychological demeanor and daily living issues.

“Medicine has done a great job at keeping these people alive,” Kreutzer says of people with brain injuries, whether from car accidents or gunshot wounds, neurodegenerative diseases or growing tumors. “But often, they are unable to work and they experience psychological disorders. A big part of what I do is to help them identify ways to get back to work and to lead emotionally healthy lives — lives worth living.”

Now thanks to an endowed professorship in the medical school, Kreutzer has more time to help more people affected by brain injury.

In 2009, Kreutzer was named to the Rosa Schwarz Cifu Professor in Cancer Rehabilitation in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. The endowed professorship guarantees Kreutzer the time to pursue work that goes beyond his patient care and teaching duties. In the past two years, he has used that allocation of time to focus on scholarly work and to share the programs he’s developed on the MCV Campus with the wider world.

Kreutzer has just completed putting together the largest reference book ever compiled in the neuropsychology field. The Encyclopedia of Clinical Neuropsychology is a four-volume, 2,700-plus page tome that he hopes will become the go-to text in the field.

In addition, he is spending time traveling and talking to others about some of the programs he’s developed in his nearly 30 years at VCU. The most recent is a family intervention program that helps families of brain-injured patients learn about brain injury and practice communication and problem-solving skills so that they can function in a healthy way. “Family members of brain-injured patients can feel quite lonely, even though they’re together,” Kreutzer says. “Our program helps them understand their feelings and stimulates ways to talk about them.”

Kreutzer travels around the continent conducting trainings of the Brain Injury Family Intervention for health care professionals, as well as for patients and their families. The program combines education with counseling to address emotional, behavioral and cognitive changes that occur with brain injury.

Earlier programs developed by Kreutzer and his VCU colleague Paul Wehman, Ph.D., include an employment program, which has since become the standard of care to help patients return to the workforce, and a program to address depression, a too-common and debilitating outcome of brain injury.

Kreutzer has received prestigious recognition from other organizations for his work in rehabilitation of brain-injured patients. Last fall the National Academy of Neuropsychology honored him with their Distinguished Lifetime Contribution to Neuropsychology Award.

No one is happier to see Kreutzer benefitting from the endowed professorship than his department chair, David Cifu, M.D., who holds the Herman J. Flax, M.D. Professorship of PM&R. Together with his wife, brothers and father, Cifu set up the endowment to memorialize his mother, Rosa Schwarz Cifu, who was a cancer nurse for 30 years and received medical care at the VCU Medical Center. The motivation behind the endowment was to support a faculty member in rehabilitation, much the way his mother supported the recovery of so many patients.

In fact, the PM&R department got its start in 1949, with the support of a gift from Bernard Baruch in honor of his father and Civil War surgeon Simon Baruch, M.D., making it one of the oldest departments in the country. “Patients with disability and pain can be helped to return to activity and productivity with compassionate medical services, therapeutic exercise, medications, education and training, health and life coaching, and psychologic support and care,” Cifu says. Psychologists like Kreutzer are a critical component of the interdisciplinary field of rehabilitation medicine.

“Jeff Kreutzer is an internationally-recognized leader in research, teaching and clinical care,” Cifu says. “I felt it was appropriate to provide dedicated funding so he could carve out time to teach people about his work.”

By Jill Adams