Introduction: Pain management is a major health care challenge in terms of the significant prevalence of pain and the negative consequences of poor management. Consequently, there have been international calls to improve pain medicine education for medical students. This systematic review examines the literature on pain medicine education at medical schools internationally, with a particular interest in studies that make reference to: a defined pain medicine curriculum, specific pain medicine learning objectives, dedicated pain education modules, core pain topics, medical specialties that teach pain medicine, elective study opportunities, hours allocated to teaching pain medicine during the curriculum, the status of pain medicine in the curriculum (compulsory or optional), as well as teaching, learning, and assessment methods.

Methods: A systematic review was undertaken of relevant studies on pain medicine education for medical students published between January 1987 and May 2018 using PubMed, Medline, Excerpta Medica database (EMBASE), Education Resources Information Center (ERIC), and Google Scholar, and Best Evidence Medical Education (BEME) data bases.

Results: Fourteen studies met the inclusion criteria. Evaluation of pain medicine curricula has been undertaken at 383 medical schools in Australia, New Zealand, the United States of America (USA), Canada, the United Kingdom (UK), and Europe. Pain medicine was mostly incorporated into medical courses such as anaesthesia or pharmacology, rather than presented as a dedicated pain medicine module. Ninety-six percent of medical schools in the UK and USA, and nearly 80% of medical schools in Europe had no compulsory dedicated teaching in pain medicine. On average, the median number of hours of pain content in the entire curriculum was 20 in Canada (2009), 20 in Australia and New Zealand (2018), 13 in the UK (2011), 12 in Europe (2012/2013), and 11 in the USA (2009). Neurophysiology and pharmacology pain topics were given priority by medical schools in all countries. Lectures, seminars, and case-based instruction were the teaching methods most commonly employed. When it was undertaken, medical schools mostly assessed student competency in pain medicine using written examinations rather than clinical assessments.

Conclusions: This systematic review has revealed that pain medicine education at medical schools internationally does not adequately respond to societal needs in terms of the prevalence and public health impact of inadequately managed pain.


curricula, education, health science, medical student, pain medicine, systematic review

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