Background: A key tool for use in approaching chronic pain treatment is educating patients to reconceptualize pain. Thus, health professionals are fundamental to the transmission of pain information to patients. Because their understanding of pain is acquired during the educational process, the aim of this study was to compare the knowledge about pain neurophysiology in first and final-year students from three different health science programs at a single University to determine their gain in knowledge using a well-known questionnaire designed to evaluate the understanding of pain.
Methods: The Neurophysiology of Pain Questionnaire (19 closed-ended questions) was administered to students in their first and final years of study in Medicine, Physiotherapy, or Nutrition. The percentage of correct responses was determined and comparisons of the results were analyzed between the programs as well as between the first and final years of study within each program. For all tests, p-values were two-sided, and results with p-values below 0.05 were considered statistically significant.
Results: The participation rate was greater than 51% (n = 285). The mean percentage of correct responses, reported as mean (SD), among the first year students was 42.14 (12.23), without significant statistical differences detected between the programs. The mean percentages of correct responses for students in their final year were as follows: Medicine, 54.38 (13.87); Physiotherapy, 68.92 (16.22); Nutrition, 42.34 (10.11). We found statistically significant differences among all three programs and between the first and final years in Medicine and Physiotherapy. A question-by-question analysis showed that the percentage of correct responses for questions related to the biopsychosocial aspects of pain was higher for students in Physiotherapy than those in Medicine.
Conclusions: Students in their final years of Medicine and Physiotherapy programs know more about the neurophysiology of pain than students in their first years of these programs, however there are some questions where first years students have better results. Physiotherapy students have greater knowledge of neurophysiology of pain than Medicine students, especially the biopsychosocial aspects. Even so, their understanding may not be sufficient and does not guarantee an approach to chronic pain that will help patients reconceptualize their pain.