What can we learn from first-year medical students' perceptions of pain in the primary care setting?

Pain Med. 2011 Aug;12(8):1216-22. doi: 10.1111/j.1526-4637.2011.01150.x. Epub 2011 Jun 13.


Objective: Pain concerns are one of the leading causes of visits to primary care. However, practicing physicians find managing pain frustrating and complex. There is little information about how undergraduate medical students approach pain and its management. This study aimed to explore first-year medical students' perceptions of pain-related patient encounters in the primary care setting.

Design: Qualitative analysis was used to explore first-year students' reflective journals written during an early clinical experience in primary care. Using iterative process for text analysis, entries referencing pain-related encounters were coded by two independent researchers with 94% inter-rater reliability. Themes and categories were sought by immersion crystallization.

Results: Three themes emerged from the students' journals: positive, negative, and neutral perceptions of pain-related encounters. With further analysis of the journals, acute, chronic, end-of-life, iatrogenic, and emotional pain categories also emerged. Most journal entries were negative, and chronic pain generated the most negativity.

Conclusions: First-year medical students identified pain as a major concern in their early clinical experience. Students' perceptions of pain-related encounters can inform curriculum design and may ultimately benefit both physicians and the patients.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Curriculum
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Pain / psychology*
  • Physician-Patient Relations*
  • Primary Health Care
  • Students, Medical / psychology*