NEWS | July 14, 2011

UC Davis receives grant to develop pain management curriculum


An interprofessional team of UC Davis Health System faculty was recently awarded a $290,000 grant from the Mayday Fund to research and develop an innovative pain-management curriculum for both nursing and medical students as well as current practitioners.

The Interprofessional Pain Management Competency Program grant funds the first two phases of a five-phase project to design, implement and disseminate a new, interprofessional curriculum with a vision to change how health-care professionals respond to pain. Work begins on the curriculum just a month after the Institute of Medicine reported chronic pain affects an estimated 116 million American adults—more than the total affected by heart disease, cancer and diabetes combined. Pain also costs up to $635 billion annually in treatment and lost productivity.

“Bringing medicine and nursing together in this study serves as an example of how each field benefits from the cross-pollinating effects of interprofessional learning,” said Scott Fishman, professor and chief of the UC Davis Division of Pain Medicine. “This initiative brings hope for collaborative and comprehensive solutions to increase our knowledge of—and impact on—pain.”
Fishman and Heather M. Young, associate vice chancellor for nursing and founding dean for the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing, lead the research and development team.

According to Young and Fishman, there are no consistent or nationally endorsed competencies for pain management for medical and nursing education programs. Currently, health-care professionals learn about the diagnosis and treatment of pain randomly and incompletely through clinical practice rather than intentionally and comprehensively through their education programs. The Institute of Medicine report recommended education programs for health professionals offer standardized information about pain and caring for pain.

Fishman is the board chair and president of the American Pain Foundation, a nonprofit organization working to dismantle barriers that impede access to quality pain care. The U.S. Department for Health and Human Services reports that pain affects more Americans than diabetes, heart disease and cancer combined and is a hallmark of many chronic conditions. Pain can lead to serious psychological distress, lack of physical activity and other debilitating health problems if not properly managed. Managing pain is essential to maintaining a good quality of life at all ages.

Yet treatment and care for patients experiencing pain requires a team of health-care professionals who bring expertise from a variety of disciplines, including psychiatry and physical therapy. Through the Interprofessional Pain Management Competencies Program, nursing and medical school graduates will be better prepared to work together to manage pain while providing a humanistic approach.

“Interprofessional approaches enable team members to better assess pain, its implications on function and the effectiveness of treatment,” Young said. “Team-based approaches to care work best. For example, when physicians, nurses and physical therapists work collaboratively as a team and observe people in pain, there is a greater understanding of how pain medication promotes optimal function in the person’s daily life. Students as well as working professionals need to know the benefit of collaboration in pain management.”

The first phase of the project calls for a summit of nationally recognized pain-management experts from a variety of disciplines to provide input for the new competencies as well as educational strategies to be implemented, first at the UC Davis School of Medicine and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing at UC Davis, then more broadly.

In addition to the interprofessional focus of the proposed program, other essential program elements include cultural sensitivity, innovative technology, and the inclusion of a wide range of populations, settings and conditions.

The Mayday Fund is dedicated to alleviating the incidence, degree and consequence of human physical pain. The Mayday Fund, a New-York-based organization, was established in 1992 to further Shirley Steinman Katzenbach’s commitment to social and medical causes. The Trustees decided to adopt Mrs. Katzenbach’s special interest in the treatment of pain as the fund’s mission. The name Mayday commemorates the date of her birth and is the international word signaling a cry for help, taken from the French "m'aidez" or "help me.”

UC Davis Health System is advancing the health of patients everywhere by providing excellent patient care, conducting groundbreaking research, fostering innovative, interprofessional education, and creating dynamic, productive partnerships with the community. The academic health system includes one of the country's best medical schools, a 645-bed acute-care teaching hospital, an 800-member physician's practice group and the new Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. It is home to a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center, an international neurodevelopmental institute, a stem cell institute and a comprehensive children's hospital. Other nationally prominent centers focus on advancing telemedicine, improving vascular care, eliminating health disparities and translating research findings into new treatments for patients. Together, they make UC Davis a hub of innovation that is transforming health for all. For more information, visit