Monthly Summaries of Nursing Research: January 2008

Medscape Nurses 

In This Article

Healthcare Workers Vary in Knowledge and Attitudes of Pain Management for Cancer Patients

Xue Y, Schulman-Green D, Czaplinski C, Harris D, McCorkle R. Pain attitudes and knowledge among RNs, pharmacists, and physicians on an inpatient oncology service. Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing. 2007;11:687-695.

Patients with cancer often experience chronic pain significant enough to impair their quality of life. However, studies have shown that patients hospitalized for cancer treatment may receive inadequate or inappropriate pain management.

Researchers surveyed 96 healthcare providers who worked with cancer patients about their knowledge of and attitudes towards methods of oncology pain management. The sample included 50 registered nurses (RNs), 18 pharmacists, and 28 intern physicians.

The RNs averaged 36 years of age and had 10 years of nursing experience, and over 60% had at least a bachelor's degree in nursing. Roughly half of the RNs worked on a medical oncology unit, and the other half worked on a gynecologic oncology unit. Among the medical oncology RNs, 20% rated their education and training in cancer pain as good or excellent, and 70% reported working with patients in pain on a daily basis, compared with 39% and 50%, respectively, for the gynecologic oncology RNs. Both groups of RNs believed that 50% to 60% of cancer patients typically underreported their pain, and that 12% to 15% overreported pain. On a pain knowledge assessment, the RNs did well on questions related to pain etiology and assessment, but faired more poorly on questions involving both pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic pain therapies.

Among the pharmacists, 24% rated their educational preparation in pain management as good or excellent, but compared with the RN group they had much less experience and spent much less time working with cancer patients. They demonstrated good knowledge of pain medications and side effects, but less knowledge of nonpharmacologic methods or treatments.

Among the interns, 31% rated their training and experience in pain management as good, although none rated it as excellent, and most had less than 1 year of experience working with cancer patients. Compared with the other groups, the interns were more likely to believe that patients overreport pain. They demonstrated good knowledge on clinical assessment and therapy for pain but poorer knowledge in the areas of pharmacology and alternative therapies.

These findings show a wide range of knowledge and attitudes regarding pain assessment and treatment for cancer patients, which may affect the quality of care and indicate a need for more continuing education for clinicians in this area.


All studies reported here are supported by funding from the National Institute of Nursing Research


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