• nursing;
  • pain knowledge;
  • undergraduate;
  • education;
  • physiology;
  • pain mechanisms;
  • pain management;
  • survey

Background.  Pain management is an essential and important aspect of nursing care. Deficits in pain knowledge and attitudes continue to be reported despite a growth of educational programmes. A lack of basic knowledge of pain at an undergraduate level may limit nurses from effectively developing their knowledge after graduation.

Aim of the study.  To assess the type and level of knowledge of basic aspects of pain mechanisms and treatment principles in complete classes of final year nurses, at three nursing schools.

Method.  Data were collected in 1999, from 150 students (81 Australian and 69 Philippine) via a 23-item pain knowledge test questionnaire, previously used to assess undergraduate health professionals including nurses.

Results.  The mean score of concordant answers for all students was 38·6%, scores ranged from 0% to 70%, 95% Confidence Interval of the mean was 36–41%. There were few significant differences between the groups for individual questions and no significant difference in overall mean scores. Common questions answered poorly included those related to complex regional pain syndrome, pharmacology and central sensitization.

Most students perceived their undergraduate pain education to be minimal. Thirty-six per cent of Australian students compared with 50% Filipino students perceived their pain knowledge was adequate for their clinical needs. Additionally, most students believed that graduating doctors should be able to answer the test questions correctly.

Conclusion.  The results demonstrate consistently low levels of knowledge and also knowledge gaps about basic pain mechanisms, terms and treatment amongst these three final year nursing classes. Such information is useful to define levels of basic knowledge about this topic, and can be explored further as to whether some or all of these facts are deemed necessary for inclusion in nursing curriculum by reference to documents such as the International Association for the Study of Pain curriculum.