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The Current State of Physician Assistant Pain Curriculum

A National Survey

Yealy, Johnna K., PhD, PA-C; Martinasek, Mary, PhD; Doran, Todd, EdD, PA-C

The Journal of Physician Assistant Education: March 2019 - Volume 30 - Issue 1 - p 20–26
doi: 10.1097/JPA.0000000000000237
Research Article

Purpose Insufficient pain management and inappropriate use of pain medication are problems across the health care spectrum. Recent clinical practice guidelines and standardized core curricula have been developed to combat the deficiencies in pain education to ensure that health care professionals are proficient in assessing and managing pain; however, the extent to which physician assistant (PA) programs have implemented these in their training programs is unclear. The purpose of this study was to determine the magnitude of pain education in current PA programs in the United States, including how pain medicine instruction is incorporated into the curriculum, time spent teaching about pain management, the methods used, and barriers to providing pain medicine education.

Methods Data from the 2016 Physician Assistant Education Association's Support to Advance Research grant, which allowed the inclusion of questions in the annual program survey, were analyzed. The response rate was 100%. Descriptive statistics were used to describe results. Nonparametric statistics used the Mann-Whitney U test and Kruskal-Wallis analysis to assess mean ranks and calculate effect sizes.

Results Of the 209 programs surveyed, 14% reported that pain management is not included in the curriculum, and 3% reported that it is a stand-alone module. The reason most often cited to explain lack of curriculum was insufficient time (39%), and 32% reported that it is not mandated by the program accreditors. Further analysis included assessment of differences in pain medicine curriculum by program housing, academic health science center status, and geography.

Conclusions Eighty-six percent of programs include pain education in their curriculum, suggesting that PA programs recognize the importance of pain education. The methods of instruction and topics included across programs are inconsistent. As the first comprehensive benchmark of pain medicine education for PAs, this study shows that although most programs address pain curriculum, opportunities exist to improve pain training in PA programs in the United States.

Johnna K. Yealy, PhD, PA-C, is the program director and an associate professor in the Physician Assistant Medicine Program at the University of Tampa, Tampa, Florida.

Mary Martinasek, PhD, is an assistant dean and associate professor in the Public Health Program at the University of Tampa, Tampa, Florida.

Todd Doran, EdD, PA-C, is the director for PA admissions and professor in the Department of Physician Assistant Medicine Program at the University of Tampa, Tampa Florida.

Correspondence should be addressed to: Johnna K. Yealy, PhD, PA-C, Department of Physician Assistant Medicine, University of Tampa, 401 West Kennedy Boulevard., Box 11F, Tampa, FL 33606-1490. Telephone: (813) 257-3226; Email:

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Copyright © 2019 Physician Assistant Education Association
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