NEWS | August 10, 2012

Leaders gather to develop competencies for pain management education

Editor's note:

A list of summit participants is available upon request.


A team of 30 pain and education experts from throughout North America gathered for an intensive two-day summit at UC Davis Health System last week to develop competencies in pain management education for new clinicians across the health professions.

Summit participants will seek national endorsement of pain management competencies for education for new health professionals. Summit participants will seek national endorsement of pain management competencies for education for new health professionals.

"It is a remarkable outcome to have this group of leaders with diverse expertise, opinions and perspectives reach consensus on core competencies for pain throughout curricula for nurses, physicians, physical therapists and other health professionals," said Heather M. Young, associate vice chancellor for nursing at UC Davis and founding dean for the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. 

The Expert Summit for Interprofessional Consensus on Pain Management Competencies included  leaders from several health-related disciplines--such as dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, physical therapy, psychology, social work and veterinary medicine-- as well as educational experts and researchers.

"Although the management of acute and chronic pain remains a challenge, pain education is lacking in many health science curricula, particularly for beginning students," said summit participant Judy Watt-Watson, president of the Canadian Pain Society and professor emerita for The Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing at the University of Toronto. "The work of this interprofessional group was remarkable in that they produced such an important document so quickly that will have major benefit for educators and ultimately patients."

The summit was part of the Interprofessional Pain Management Competency Program, a project to develop pain management core competencies and drive curriculum reform related to pain management. The program is led by Scott M. Fishman, professor and chief of pain medicine and vice chair of the department of Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine and Young.

The Interprofessional Pain Management Competency Program's initial phases, including the summit, are supported by The Mayday Fund, an organization dedicated to alleviating the incidence, degree and consequence of human physical pain.

"The current state of pain management competencies and content in schools of medicine and nursing, as well as other health professions, is inadequate," Fishman said. "The creation and distribution of core competencies in pain management that apply across professions and can serve as a foundational step in improving the culture and content of care for adults and children with acute, chronic or end-of-life pain."

A 2011 Institute of Medicine report revealed the need for improved pain education for health professionals due to increasing numbers of Americans coping with chronic pain as well as skyrocketing costs. According to the Institute of Medicine, an estimated 100 million American adults--more than the total affected by heart diseases, cancer and diabetes combined--suffer from chronic pain. Pain costs the nation up to $600 billion annually in medical treatment and lost productivity.

Prior to the summit, Fishman and Young worked with a five-member executive committee to examine the current state of pain education for early-stage health-professional students through literature and curricula review and expert interviews. The result of that work was presented to the summit participants who worked over the two days to reach consensus on a framework for pain management competencies. They agreed the core competencies would cover four key areas:

  • Multidimensional nature of pain
  • Assessment and measurement
  • Management of pain
  • Clinical conditions: interprofessional, patient-centered care in context

The group plans to summarize the summit results in a journal article and full report within the next six months. Other means of dissemination, such as additional peer-reviewed publications, presentations at professional conferences and distribution to academic and professional organizations is also planned to encourage endorsement and application of the competencies in various health education programs throughout the world.

UC Davis Health System is improving lives and transforming health care by providing excellent patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, fostering innovative, interprofessional education, and creating dynamic, productive partnerships with the community. The academic health system includes one of the country's best medical schools, a 619-bed acute-care teaching hospital, a 1000-member physician's practice group and the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. It is home to a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center, an international neurodevelopmental institute, a stem cell institute and a comprehensive children's hospital. Other nationally prominent centers focus on advancing telemedicine, improving vascular care, eliminating health disparities and translating research findings into new treatments for patients. Together, they make UC Davis a hub of innovation that is transforming health for all. For more information, visit