Nursing is a unique, caring profession that transcends theory, research, and best practice to participate in providing comprehensive pain management. Of all health care providers, nurses work closest with patients and spend the greatest amount of time with them. The close contact and the bond that forms between nurses and their patients provide nurses with unique insight to adequately assess pain.
Nurses are trained to deliver conventional pain medications, as well as provide complementary and alternative comfort measures. Nurses work as part of a team in an interprofessional collaboration with other health care professionals. An important nurse role is to promote teamwork among those professionals while coordinating care and assessing all of the patient’s needs.
With our aging population, there will be more persons with chronic disease and chronic pain seeking treatment. This will create the need for nurses to practice with a much greater role in the future, becoming more involved in both preventing and managing acute and chronic pain. As new assessment and treatment methods are developed, nurses will play a role in providing competent care while delivering comprehensive pain management as an advocate for the pain patient.
Pain management is an important part of the curriculum in nursing education. A detailed curriculum for comprehensive pain management education for nurses has been clearly defined by the International Association for the Study of Pain. The topic of pain management is included in both didactic course work and nursing clinical course rotations.
Nurses work in all health care environments. From health promotion aimed at the prevention of chronic pain, to aggressive treatment of acute post-surgical pain, nurses provide pain management in many settings and address many different kinds of pain. Additionally, nurses who hold doctorate degrees serve in the role of nurse scientists, providing data to increase knowledge about pain management and translating research into practice.
Nurses educate pain patients and their families and teach them about their pain. Nurses also educate patients about how to talk to other health care providers about their pain, as well as educate patients about traditional pain medications and adjuvant pain therapies. Nurses empower patients by teaching them self-care measures that provide comfort and pain relief.
Nurses who are involved in pain management are able to hold a national certification through American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC; www.nursecredentialing.org). This certification requires passing a standardized exam, practice hours in pain management nursing, and continuing specialized education.
The American Society for Pain Management Nursing (ASPMN) is an organization that promotes professionalism in nurses treating patient in pain. ASPMN (www.aspmn.org) sponsors a peer-reviewed journal, Pain Management Nursing, that publishes clinical and translational research articles with high scientific merit.
This year, ASPMN will join forces with the International Nurses Society on Addictions (IntNSA; www.intnsa.org) to provide education and networking among these two professional nursing societies to promote the knowledge necessary to provide safe, responsible, and efficacious pain management.