Introduction: Considering the continuing high prevalence and public health burden of pain, it is critical that medical students are equipped with competencies in the field of pain medicine. Robust assessment of student expertise is integral for effective implementation of competency-based medical education.

Objective: The aim of this review was to describe the literature regarding methods for assessing pain medicine competencies in medical students.

Method: PubMed, Medline, EMBASE, ERIC, and Google Scholar, and BEME data bases were searched for empirical studies primarily focusing on assessment of any domain of pain medicine competencies in medical students published between January 1997 and December 2016.

Results: A total of 41 studies met the inclusion criteria. Most assessments were performed for low-stakes summative purposes and did not reflect contemporary theories of assessment. Assessments were predominantly undertaken using written tests or clinical simulation methods. The most common pain medicine education topics assessed were pain pharmacology and the management of cancer and low-back pain. Most studies focussed on assessment of cognitive levels of learning as opposed to more challenging domains of demonstrating skills and attitudes or developing and implementing pain management plans.

Conclusion: This review highlights the need for more robust assessment tools that effectively measure the abilities of medical students to integrate pain-related competencies into clinical practice. A Pain Medicine Assessment Framework has been developed to encourage systematic planning of pain medicine assessment at medical schools internationally and to promote continuous multidimensional assessments in a variety of clinical contexts based on well-defined pain medicine competencies.


review, pain medicine, medical education, assessment, competency-based education

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