As a nurse, one of your main jobs will be helping to keep patients comfortable. Most medical problems cause some kind of discomfort, so you’ll frequently encounter patients dealing with pain. Some patients will be dealing with short-term pain, while others will have chronic pain requiring ongoing management.
While doctors may prescribe pain medication or direct you in helping patients with their pain, you will learn about these topics in nursing school so you can more effectively deliver appropriate care, even when a doctor isn’t available right away. Here are some of the topics you’ll likely learn more about as you work toward your nursing degree.
Types and Causes of Pain
Pain can occur from a variety of sources. As a nurse, you’ll learn about different types of pain, including:
- Acute pain
- Chronic pain
- Neuropathic pain
- Nociceptive pain
- Radicular pain
You will also learn about common causes for each type of pain. As you begin working as an RN, you will gain experience with different conditions that can cause different types of pain, allowing you to build on what you learn in nursing school.
Nurses must be able to quickly determine how much pain a patient is in so they can take appropriate action, which is different in each situation.Pain is a subjective experience, and nurses must learn about the standard assessment tools in order to understand a patient’s experience as much as possible.
Depending on a patient’s condition, treatment plan, preferences, and pain tolerance, different pain management techniques may be appropriate. But providing effective pain management strategies involves getting a good idea of how a patient is experiencing their pain and what they are enduring.
Acute Pain Management
Patients who have treatable illnesses and injuries may be suffering from acute pain, which will clear up when the underlying cause is addressed. During that time, however, pain management strategies may be needed, and nurses will learn which medications and other solutions might be needed for different types of pain.
Chronic Pain Management
People with chronic health conditions often have ongoing pain management needs. Joint pain, facial and head pain, and back pain are just some examples of pain that can be associated with a chronic condition. Chronic pain differs from acute pain as it can be more difficult to manage and medications must be used more carefully to prevent dependency and serious side effects. Nursing students should also learn about sub-topics like breakthrough pain and what to do for terminally ill patients in pain.
Drugs for Pain Management
Nurses will learn about the medications that can be used to treat pain in different contexts. These drugs may be administered intravenously, orally, or even topically. Students will learn about which medications are most effective for different kinds of pain and how they should be used for patients with acute versus chronic pain.
Alternative Therapies for Pain
Ideally, medication should be the last resort for pain management. During nursing school, students should learn about other options for pain management, from simple hot and cold packs to laser therapy and acupuncture. Learning about these therapies is especially important for nurses working with chronic pain issues.
Addiction and Appropriate Use of Narcotics
Although there are medications that can be highly effective, even for people with chronic pain, there are major downsides to using them long-term. Nurses should learn about the risks associated with drugs like opioids and the potential for addiction. Even though RNs will not be prescribing medication, it is important for all nursing students to understand the responsible, ethical, and appropriate use of narcotics for pain management.
Advanced Pain Management Education
It’s difficult to see a patient in pain and realize that you’re unable to help them because your training isn’t advanced enough or because you are not authorized to make pain management decisions. Some nurses become passionate enough about pain management and other patient care topics to consider furthering their education and becoming nurse practitioners (NPs).
Nurse practitioners can diagnose and treat illness, in addition to providing patient care. They enjoy a great deal of career autonomy and have the knowledge to provide advanced pain management solutions for patients. An RN to NP online program is a convenient way to advance your career and increase both your earning potential and your ability to help patients.
As the population ages, the need for more qualified NPs will continue to grow. By earning this in-demand degree, you’ll be able to make a difference and enjoy a stable, fulfilling career. You can also consider specializing in pain management as an RN as an alternative. You can become certified in pain management and improve your career outlook.
Helping patients manage their pain can be truly life-changing and allow them to lead fuller, happier lives. As an NP or a nurse with training in pain management, you’ll be offering one of the most important services that our healthcare system provides: relief.