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USC Online Degrees Provide Much-Needed Pain Education

June 23, 2017
Historically, clinicians lacked opportunities for advanced pain education. That’s about to change.

Pain is everywhere, but pain education is virtually nonexistent. Clinicians all over the world in all disciplines have long lacked the educational opportunities to understand pain and how to treat it. Pain management experts at the University of Southern California (USC) hope to close this knowledge gap by launching two online programs in pain medicine.  

Beginning fall 2017, USC will offer a Master of Science in Pain Medicine and a Certificate in Pain Medicine. The programs, which are delivered entirely online, will provide clinicians a comprehensive body of knowledge on pain and enable them to better treat pain in their patients.

“These programs are designed to enhance your practice and understanding of pain,” said Steven Richeimer, MD, Chief of the Division of Pain Medicine at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, who is spearheading the programs.

Giving Pain Its Educational Due

"To have pain is to have certainty; to hear about pain is to have doubt.” Elaine Scarry coined this quote in her book, The Body in Pain, and Dr. Richeimer said it helps explain why pain is misunderstood. It all starts with lack of education, he said.

“The study of pain has been a greatly underserved area in education,” Dr. Richeimer noted. “And, it’s a young field. It only became a board-certified specialty in the early 1990s. The first pain management textbook wasn’t published until the 1950s.”

Prior to that, Dr. Richeimer said pain was only considered a symptom of other medical conditions. “And, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that [John J.] Bonica started to talk about how chronic pain is a disease unto itself. It needs a focus of education, knowledge, and treatment specific to it,” he said.

Dr. Richeimer explained that USC’s online programs in pain medicine fill 3 gaps in the global medical community:

  • For doctors: Medical school pain education is minimal.
  • For non-medical clinicians (eg, dentists, physical therapists, nurses, and pharmacists): These professionals receive little to no opportunity to get advanced education in pain.
  • International practitioners: Outside of North America and Europe, there are even fewer educational opportunities to understand pain medicine. 

A Snapshot of the Pain Medicine Degrees

The pain medicine master’s and certificate degrees are a joint venture between the Keck School of Medicine of USC and the Herman Ostrow School of Dentistry of USC—and the programs will leverage pain experts from both prestigious institutions as faculty.  

Master of Science in Pain Medicine

Completed in 37 months, this program includes 25 core courses along with 2 electives. Coursework will focus on a wide spectrum of areas related to pain, including pain conditions, neuroscience, psychological aspects, pain assessment and classification, and legal issues. 

Certificate in Pain Medicine

Completed in 12.5 month, this program includes 7 courses derived from the master degree.

Both programs align with the current National Pain Strategy (NPS) professional education and training recommendations, which focus on steps to improve discipline-specific core competencies, including:

  • Basic knowledge
  • Assessment
  • Effective team-based care
  • Empathy
  • Cultural competency

“When we first hatched the idea for these programs, the NPS hadn’t been released yet,” Dr. Richeimer noted. “So, while we didn’t create our programs because of the NPS, the NPS is exactly what we are trying to accomplish—it details the need for education to reach out to all the clinical professions.” 

The wide spectrum of clinical professionals, from physicians and nurses to physical therapists and behavioral health specialists, may benefit from USC’s new pain medicine programs, Dr. Richeimer said.

Who Should Apply for the Programs?

The Master of Science in Pain Medicine and Certificate degrees are academic programs—they are not clinical certifications, licenses, or fellowships. Qualified applicants should be licensed clinicians, such as physicians, dentists, nurses, physical and occupational therapists, psychologists, and pharmacists.

Dr. Richeimer said the programs are not targeted to the pain specialist who has completed a fellowship in pain. However, pain specialists who have not done a pain fellowship—or clinicians who have seen their practice evolve to one that sees many patients with chronic pain—are ideal candidates for these programs.

“These programs allow you to get background knowledge in pain without having to stop your practice and do a fellowship,” Dr. Richeimer said. “A fellowship is a clinical credential—that’s not what you’ll get in our program,” he continued. “You will, however, get an academic background to help you with patients in chronic pain.”

Given the online nature of the education, clinicians from all over the world may participate. Dr. Richeimer noted that the program administrators are seeking sponsors for scholarships to give opportunities to practitioners in parts of the world where income would not allow them to participate.

Reactions from the Medical Community

The groundbreaking nature of USC’s online programs in pain medicine have garnered interest and praise from pain practitioners and academics.

“Your program is an important advancement for the field—an activation of the National Pain Strategy,” said Rollin M. Gallagher, MD, MPH, Editor-in-Chief of Pain Medicine, and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Anesthesiology Director for Pain Policy Research and Primary Care at Penn Pain Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

“We need a prominent school and its leaders to step up and commit to a program that addresses the glaring need for clinicians in our health care system to be both knowledgeable about pain, but more importantly, to be competent in pain practice,” Gallagher said.

Echoing Dr. Gallagher’s sentiments, Jeffrey C. Wang, MD, Chief of Orthopaedic Spine Service, Co-Director USC Spine Center, and Professor of Orthopaedic Surgery and Neurosurgery at the USC Spine Center says the universal yet complex nature of pain makes the new pain medicine programs vital educational offerings.

“This pain medicine program provides a structured curriculum on which to base appropriate understanding and treatment of pain, which will improve so many patients’ lives,” Dr. Wang said. “I am excited to see specific courses like this novel pain medicine program that will shed some light on oftentimes a very complicated issue and allowing us to be better care providers.”

The Fall 2017 application deadline for both programs is August 1, 2017. To enroll in USC’s online programs in pain medicine and learn more, visit painmed.usc.edu.

Last updated on: April 21, 2020
Continue Reading:
The Continuing Need for Pain Education

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