Although unrelieved pain continues to represent a significant problem, prelicensure educational programs tend to include little content related to pain. Standards for professional competence strongly influence curricula and have the potential to ensure that health science students have the knowledge and skill to manage pain in a way that also allows them to meet professional ethical standards.
To perform a systematic, comprehensive examination to determine the entry-to-practice competencies related to pain required for Canadian health science and veterinary students, and to examine how the presence and absence of pain competencies relate to key competencies of an ethical nature.
Entry-to-practice competency requirements related to pain knowledge, skill and judgment were surveyed from national, provincial and territorial documents for dentistry, medicine, nursing, pharmacy, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, psychology and veterinary medicine.
Dentistry included two and nursing included nine specific pain competencies. No references to competencies related to pain were found in the remaining health science documents. In contrast, the national competency requirements for veterinary medicine, surveyed as a comparison, included nine pain competencies. All documents included competencies pertaining to ethics.
The lack of competencies related to pain has implications for advancing skillful and ethical practice. The lack of attention to pain competencies limits the capacity of health care professionals to alleviate suffering, foster autonomy and use resources justly. Influencing professional bodies to increase the number of required entry-to-practice pain competencies may ultimately have the greatest impact on education and practice.