What Is a Pain Management Nurse?

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Nurse looking after patient in critical condition

Pain is a sophisticated warning system alerting us to something that is not right with our body. But what happens when too many alarms sound at once? In such cases, the expertise of a pain management nurse is indispensable. Pain management nurses provide relief to patients, helping them feel better in the short term, and improving their quality of life in the long term. But “someone who provides pain relief” only partly answers the question “What is a pain management nurse?”

Why Pain Management Nurses Matter

According to the American Society for Pain Management Nursing, the goal of a pain management nurse is to ensure people in pain receive the best care. This is accomplished by assessing and monitoring a patient’s pain levels and administering the proper pain-management treatment or medication. This methodology may seem uncomplicated, but the importance of controlling pain transcends the realm of simply making a patient feel better.

Untreated pain can be detrimental to a patient’s general recovery and journey to wellness. Unchecked pain may cause patients to become largely immobile. It may also prevent patients from carrying out rehabilitation exercises for healing, such as walking and deep breathing. Treating pain is a critical part of sound, ethical health care. As a matter of fact, not treating a patient’s pain may pose legal liability for a health care provider.

The Role of the Pain Management Nurse

The job of a pain management nurse is not as straightforward as merely managing pain. There are several key issues that nurses must consider and deal with appropriately. Some of these are mentioned here.

Pain Assessment

Pain management nurses must keenly understand a patient’s pain. They need to regularly assess and reassess the cause of the pain as well as its impact on the patient’s daily life. Nurses must also be mindful of a patient’s changing pain conditions, monitor progress, and then adjust medication levels and treatment as necessary.

Typically, this assessment involves a collaborative effort between the nurse and the patient. Establishing a trusting nurse-patient relationship is important, because it is the patient’s honest  description of pain that gives nurses the information to prescribe the correct medication or treatment. However, a pain management nurse must also be prepared to anticipate, intuitively ‘read,’ and treat patients who are incapacitated and cannot communicate.

Patient Education

After pain-management patients are discharged from a health care facility, they usually must self-administer their medications. For this reason, it is critical that nurses thoroughly educate patients about their prescribed medications, including how often to take them, any and all side effects, and when the medication should take effect.

Additionally, pain management nurses must also keep abreast of current federal and state laws relating to the prescribing, administering, and proper disposal of medications. Staying informed about these issues is an ongoing process, because laws and regulations can often change or be updated.

Health Care Collaboration

Pain management nurses must not only collaborate with their patients, they must also work closely with physicians and other interdisciplinary teams to devise the most effective treatment plans. While nurses may be able to adjust prescriptions as a patient’s health improves, most states do not allow nurses to prescribe medication. Clear communication and a strong partnership between nurses and physicians are essential for quality patient care.

Compassion and Cultural Sensitivity

Demonstrating a good bedside manner is important for all nurses, no matter their specialty. This is especially crucial when dealing with patients who are in pain. Pain management nurses must demonstrate compassion, which often starts with a belief that patients are sincere about reporting their pain, its severity, and its chronic nature.

Another element of compassion involves demonstrating cultural sensitivity. Studies show that ethnic minorities are regularly undertreated for their pain when suffering the same ailments and injuries as non-minority patients. There is also evidence that suggests pediatric patients and the elderly who are in long-term care facilities are not administered adequate medication to properly relieve their pain. It is the responsibility of pain management nurses to be aware of such biases, whether they are conscious or unconscious, and take steps to ensure they do not impede the equitable delivery of quality health care to all.

An Essential Piece of the Health Care Puzzle

The role of a pain management nurse is layered and complex. By assessing and mitigating pain in patients, pain management nurses play a key role in providing high-quality health care. Their combination of analytical skills and personal compassion should continue be a mainstay of quality patient care, even as the health services industry continues to change and grow.

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Recommended Reading:
What Does DNP Stand For?
The Nurse’s Responsibility in the Field of Clinical Pharmacology
5 DNP Careers in the Health Care Industry

Houston Chronicle
Daily Nurse
American Society for Pain Management Nursing
Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses
Regis College