Most medical schools fail to provide adequate training of clinicians in the treatment of pain. Similarly, despite the fact that over 1/3 of Americans suffer from chronic pain, National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding for pain represents only ~1 % of the NIH budget. These issues may dissuade students from pursing pain in their clinical and research careers. To address these gaps in training and funding, we argue that exposing students to pain science early in their careers, at the undergraduate level, may be an effective method to develop a pipeline for future pain clinicians and scientists. To highlight our argument, we will describe our recent successful implementation of a cross-disciplinary and community-engaged biomedical summer research program. The Pain Undergraduate Research Experience (PURE) summer program involved both off-site and on-site experiences to expose undergraduate students to the range of careers in the pain field from basic science to clinical practice. The objective of the 10-week long PURE program was to evaluate whether a combination of basic science research, clinical practice visits, and patient interactions would increase student understanding of and exposure to the underlying science of pain.
A pre-post cohort study was used without a comparison group. Entry and exit surveys were used to evaluate students’ perceptions about pain clinical practice and research, student interest in pain, and student confidence about communicating about pain and doing basic science pain research.
Students reported significant increases to a number of questions in the survey. Questions were scored on 5 point Likert scales and there was significant increases in student understanding of what life is like with chronic pain (2.6 vs 4.3 post survey), their confidence in explaining pain to a patient (2.8 vs 4.1) or researcher (2.8 vs 4), and their comfort with pain terminology(2.8 vs 3.9).
With the PURE program, we wanted to entice top undergraduates to consider pain as a future area of study, practice, and/or research. We present a model that can be easily implemented at research universities throughout the United States.