Patient performing exercises

How to Become a Pain Management Nurse

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Patient performing exercises

While advances in modern medicine have made it possible to treat (and even cure) more medical conditions than ever before, many people still suffer from a variety of long-term or even chronic illnesses. Fortunately, there’s an entire nursing specialty dedicated to helping patients with these chronic illnesses manage their pain and maintain as high a quality of life as possible. If you’ve considered a career in nursing and want to specialize in an area that lets you improve people’s lives when they’re going through tough times, becoming a pain management nurse could be the nursing specialty for you! In addition to being a gratifying field, working as a pain management nurse is also a great way to earn a living. In fact, we recently featured pain management nurses on our list of the highest-paid nursing jobs in 2021.

This career guide will teach you everything you need to know about becoming a pain management nurse, including the educational requirements, certifications, day-to-day duties, and how long it generally takes to launch your new career.

Not sure if becoming a pain management nurse is the right nursing specialty for you? Click here to see our full list of the 18 highest-paying nursing jobs.

Pain Management Nurse Definition

What Is a Pain Management Nurse?

Pain management nurses work with patients who suffer from chronic pain or illness (or recovering from major injuries) to manage their condition and improve their independence and overall quality of life. While pain management nurses frequently administer medication, they also work with patients and their families to find non-pharmaceutical treatment solutions that can include everything from physical therapy to acupuncture.

Pain Management Nurse: Job Description

What Does a Pain Management Nurse Do?

Pain management nurses evaluate patients experiencing all pain levels and collaborate with physicians to develop a treatment plan that will reduce or alleviate patients’ discomfort. They administer medications through various methods and often educate patients and their families on the variety of available treatment options. Pain management nurses also monitor and document how patients respond to treatment plans and make adjustments accordingly to improve results.

Pain Management Nurse Duties

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of pain management nurses include:

  • Evaluating patients’ pain levels, including reading nonverbal cues
  • Administering medication through IV drips, injections, or catheters
  • Working with physicians to determine a treatment plan for each patient
  • Educating patients and their caregivers on treatment options
  • Continually reassessing patients and documenting results to ensure their treatment plan is working as intended

Pain Management Nurse Skills

Due to a variety of factors, some patients are hesitant to reveal the true nature of their pain during an exam, so the ability to read people and notice nonverbal cues is very beneficial for pain management nurses. Problem-solving skills are also essential, as it may take multiple attempts to land on a treatment plan that’s effective for any given patient. Finally, pain management nurses must have the patience and communication skills to work with people who may be in distress at times.

Where Do Pain Management Nurses Work?

Pain management nurses can find employment anywhere people are recovering from serious injuries or being treated for chronic or long-term conditions. Within a hospital, pain management nurses tend to work in places like oncology wards or trauma units. However, you’ll also find them working in  outpatient clinics, rehabilitation facilities, or private physician’s offices.

Medical team walking in a hallway

Pain Management Nurse Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Pain Management Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Pain Management Nurse?

While becoming a pain management nurse will require several years of focus and dedication both in the classroom and on the job, it’s still one of the fastest paths to a career in one of the top-paying nursing specialties. Pain management nurses are one of the highest-paid nursing specialties you can become without completing a Master’s degree! Like any other nursing specialty, you’ll first need to become a registered nurse, which starts with earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited college or university. Traditionally, that requires spending a full four years in school, but with an accelerated degree program, you could earn your BSN in as little as 32 months!

Any long-term goal seems much more attainable when you break it down into individual steps, and becoming a pain management nurse is no different.

Here’s a step-by-step guide to the education, experience, and certifications you’ll need to become a pain management nurse:

1. Enroll in a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) Program

The first step in your pain management nurse training is enrolling in a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program from an accredited college or university. Nursing careers are open to people who have taken all different paths in life—your willingness to apply yourself now is much more important than whether you got straight A’s in school. For example, to enroll in the BSN program at Brookline College, all you’ll need is a high school diploma or GED with a GPA of 2.5 or higher, plus a passing score on the ATI-TEAS admission exam.

2. Earn Your BSN Degree

Like any other nursing specialty, your career as a pain management nurse starts with earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Your BSN coursework will include general-education requirements like math, literature, statistics, psychology, and communications—courses you’ll find in any bachelor’s degree program. All these courses will help you become a more well-rounded communicator and problem solver, both critical skills for pain management nurses when it comes to assessing patients and adapting treatment plans.

Of course, the main focus of your BSN program will involve learning all there is to know about the fundamentals of nursing. Some of your classes will cover how to assess patients (including measuring their pain levels), and the problems you’re likely to encounter among different patient groups. Others will teach you about pharmacology, including sedatives and other pain-management medications. You’ll also cover health care law and ethics and complete simulation exercises that will train you to keep your cool when things don’t go as planned.

In tandem with your nursing-specific coursework, you’ll also spend time studying related medical sciences like anatomy, microbiology, nutrition, and human development. A well-rounded knowledge of the human body is critical for pain management nurses, particularly in a time when finding non-pharmacological solutions is so important to avoiding opioid dependence among chronic pain patients.

Finally, you’ll need to complete a clinical capstone program, which will give you hands-on experience in a real clinical environment. Of course, you’ll learn a lot from studying in a classroom and performing simulated training exercises. Still, there’s no substitute for the skills and confidence you’ll build from applying your knowledge in the real world with real patients, each of whom will have their own fears and concerns.

Wherever you choose to pursue your nursing degree, make sure it’s with a college that’s up-to-date on the latest training tools and one that goes above and beyond when it comes to supporting students after graduation. Schools that offer students extra services like job-placement programs can sometimes help you line up your first job as an RN before you’ve even received your diploma!

Woman smiling in a library

3. Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam

The final step for anyone before becoming a registered nurse (and eventually specializing as a pain management nurse) is passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX is a computer-adaptive test, meaning the number of questions and the amount of time it takes will depend on how many questions you answer correctly. The highest number of questions is typically around 265 over a maximum of six hours—however, the test can also be over in as few as 75 questions if you get on a serious hot streak! Two optional breaks are scheduled at the 2-hour mark and the 3.5-hour mark. If you’re the type to get nervous on test day, there’s no need to panic—any BSN graduate should be well-prepared for the NCLEX, and practice exams are widely available for you to get familiar with the exam format.

4. Gain Experience as a Licensed Registered Nurse

After passing the NCLEX, you’ll be eligible to apply for a nursing license from the state in which you intend to practice. The NCLEX is nationally recognized, so whether you’re seeking a fresh start or prefer to stay close to home, you’ll have many options. You’ll need to have at least two years of experience as an RN before you can become a pain management nurse, with a solid chunk of that time spent working in an environment that’s somehow related to pain management. You may consider looking for RN jobs at places like rehabilitation centers, within an oncology department, or working with other types of chronic-pain sufferers like fibromyalgia patients.

Nursing license renewal requirements vary by state, but you’ll generally need to renew your license every two to three years. As long as you’ve been employed as an RN or participating in continuing education programs, you should be able to renew your nursing license without much trouble.

5. Become a Certified Pain Management Nurse

After working as a registered nurse for at least two years and logging a sufficient number of hours in a pain-management environment, you’ll be eligible to take a certification exam from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. You can either take the exam at an approved testing center, or have it proctored remotely from the comfort and convenience of your own home. Expect around 175 questions designed to test your knowledge of patient assessment and pain management techniques. Once you’ve passed the exam, your certification as a pain management nurse will be valid for five years.

Pain Management Nurse Salary

How Much Do Pain Management Nurses Make?

According to Indeed.com, pain management nurses across the country earn an average annual salary of around $100,000 per year, which works out to over $48.00 per hour. It’s one of the few six-figure jobs in the nursing field you can get without having to spend several more years in school earning a master’s degree!

Pain Management Nurse Job Outlook

What Is the Job Outlook for Pain Management Nurses?

With a significant portion of the population soon entering old age and thus requiring more healthcare services, pain management nurses are poised for excellent long-term career stability. Like other nursing specialties, the long-term job outlook for pain management nurses is quite positive, as the BLS projects the total number of available nursing careers to increase by 7% by the year 2029. That’s nearly double the average 4% growth rate for all other jobs across all industries.

Medical team with a patient

Ready to Start Your Career as a Pain Management Nurse?

If you’re the empathetic type who thrives on picking others up when they’re down, becoming a pain management nurse could be your calling. Pain management nurses have a unique responsibility to alleviate their patients’ suffering while also keeping their long-term health in mind, especially since so many chronic pain patients are at risk for developing opioid dependence. While working as a pain management nurse comes with a lot of responsibility, that’s why it’s one of the highest-paid nursing specialties—and most people in the profession will tell you it’s more than worth it!

Ready to start taking steps toward a long and rewarding career as a pain management nurse? Click here to learn more about the BSN program at Brookline College and get started on the road to your new career in nursing today!