The prevalence and burden of pain has long been reported as problematic. Comprehensive pain education in undergraduate programmes is essential for developing knowledgeable, skilled and effective healthcare professionals. This cross-sectional survey describes the nature, content and learning strategies for pain curricula in undergraduate healthcare programmes in major universities in the United Kingdom (UK). Document analysis also highlighted gaps in pain-related standards from professional regulators and a higher education quality assurance body. The sample consisted of 19 higher education institutions delivering 108 programmes across dentistry, medicine, midwifery, nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacy, physiotherapy and veterinary science.
Seventy-four (68.5%) questionnaires were returned averaging 12.0 h of pain content with physiotherapy and veterinary science students receiving the highest input. Pain education accounted for less than 1% of programme hours for some disciplines. Traditional teaching methods dominated (e.g. lectures 87.8%) and only two programmes had fully implemented the International Association for the Study of Pain's (IASP) curricula. Minimal pain-related standards were found from professional regulators and the quality assurance documents.
Pain education is variable across and within disciplines and interprofessional learning is minimal. Published curricula for pain education have been available for over 20 years but are rarely employed and pain is not a core part of regulatory and quality assurance standards for health professions. The hours of pain education is woefully inadequate given the prevalence and burden of pain. Recommendations include the introduction of pain-related educational standards across all professions, greater integration of pain content in undergraduate programmes and interprofessional approaches to the topic.