Nurses' knowledge of pain assessment and management: How much progress have we made?

Margo McCaffery, Betty R. Ferrell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

186 Scopus citations


Undertreatment of pain and lack of knowledge about pain management have been evident for approximately two decades. Because nurses are often the cornerstone of pain management, nurses' knowledge in this area is especially important. This paper explores indications of progress in the level of nursing knowledge about basic aspects of pain management. The literature is reviewed and findings from recent (1995) surveys of nurses' knowledge are compared with results of similar surveys conducted beginning in 1988. Improvements in nurses' knowledge of pain assessment, opioid dosing, and likelihood of addiction seem to have occurred. However, knowledge deficits continue. Fewer than one-half of the nurses surveyed understand that the patient's self report of pain is the single most reliable indicator of pain and that the nurse should increase a previously safe but ineffective dose of opioid. Findings from surveys on addiction reveal that the longer the patient receives opioids the more concerned nurses become about causing addiction. Nevertheless, results of current knowledge surveys of nurses suggest that educational efforts probably have been beneficial and should continue. To maximize the impact of educational efforts, content in basic and continuing education courses should be prioritized and critically evaluated for relevance and accuracy, especially content related to addiction. Early in the education of nurses, responsibility for pain assessment and use of analgesics must be instilled.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)175-188
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number3
StatePublished - Sep 1997


  • Addiction
  • Assessment
  • Nurses' knowledge
  • Nursing education
  • Opioid dose
  • Pain
  • Physical dependence
  • Surveys
  • Tolerance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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