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How to Become a Pain Management Nurse

NurseJournal Staff
Updated December 6, 2022
Pain management is a rewarding nursing specialty. Read on to learn about pain management nursing and how to become a pain management nurse.
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Pain management nursing is emotionally and financially rewarding. Many nurses want to help those in pain, and the average pain management nurse salary is higher than other nursing specialties.

Learn more about how to become a pain management nurse, what kind of education you need, and what the job involves.

Pain Management Nurse Overview

Many nurses entered nursing specifically to help those in pain. Pain management nurses administer medications and provide other treatments for either acute or chronic pain. These nurses play a collaborative role with the patient, family, and provider to achieve pain relief for the highest quality of life.

A pain management nurse career can be rewarding, but it can also be very difficult. When you can only reduce pain rather than completely remove it, the job can be emotionally straining. It also means working with patients who might have a lot of pain and their families. Pain management nursing can also require difficult ethical judgment calls and decisions.

Steps to Becoming a Pain Management Nurse

The first step in becoming a pain management nurse is getting a registered nurse (RN) license. Pain management nursing is an RN specialty. You will need to earn a degree in nursing, pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN), and receive a state license. Then you will begin work in pain management nursing. Once you have at least 2,000 hours of experience in pain management, you can apply for certification.

Earn an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)

You can earn either a two-year ADN or a four-year bachelor of science in nursing degree. However, because of the complexities of pain management nursing, many employers require or strongly prefer a BSN degree.

Pass the NCLEX exam to receive RN licensure

The NCLEX-RN exam is multiple choice. It has up to 145 questions, and you have five hours to complete it. Once you pass, you need to apply for a state license. States have different requirements, such as criminal background checks, so review the rules for your state.

Gain experience in pain management

Once you’re licensed, you can begin pain management nursing at the entry level. Most nurses gain this experience in a hospital, nursing home, or specialty office. Specialties include oncology and rheumatology.

Earn pain management nursing certification (PMGT-BC™)

To earn certification, you must have at least two years of full-time nursing experience. You must also document nursing continuing education in pain management (at least 30 hours). Lastly, you should have 2,000 hours of pain management experience in the last three years.

While certification isn’t legally required, many employers require or strongly prefer it for higher-level positions. This can help you earn the best pain management nurse salary.

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Pain Management Nurse Education

There are two possible education paths to consider when deciding how to become a pain management nurse: a two-year ADN or a four-year BSN. While the ADN takes less time and tuition costs are less, and can lead to appealing nursing jobs with an associate degree, a four-year degree is typically required for mid- to upper-level positions.

Earning a BSN for this nursing specialty may be valuable because pain management nursing duties can be complex.

ADN Degree

You can earn an ADN at a community college. This degree takes two years and community college tuition is more affordable. It’s a good choice if you can’t afford more time or money. Many nurses start with an ADN and return to school to earn a BSN.

  • Admission Requirements: An applicant must provide a high school diploma or GED certificate. Some but not all schools have a minimum GPA requirement of 2.0. They may also require passing grades in biology, math, and chemistry.
  • Program Curriculum: The program includes human anatomy and biology, nursing foundations, infection control, and legal/ethical issues. Clinical fieldwork must also be completed.
  • Time to Complete: Two years
  • Skills Learned: The ADN emphasizes practical nursing skills, including hygiene and safety, administering medication, using medical equipment, performing medical testing, patient communication, and assisting patients to sit up or stand.

BSN Degree

BSN degrees take four years, and admission is often more competitive. The curriculum covers more topics in greater depth. Many employers require or strongly prefer a BSN for pain management nursing jobs, especially beyond entry-level positions. Another reason RNs pursue a BSN is higher pay.

This degree is the best choice if you can afford the costs and time. However, there are nursing scholarships available, including ones that cover your full costs. If you have the time but not the money, you might consider this path.

  • Admission Requirements: An applicant must hold a high school diploma or GED certificate. Most schools require at least a 3.0 GPA and passing grades in biology, chemistry, and math.
  • Program Curriculum: The curriculum includes beginning and advanced topics in human anatomy and biology, the healthcare system, and nursing management and leadership. Additional courses might include communications, public health, infection control, and the legal and ethical aspects of nursing. Clinical fieldwork is also required.
  • Time to Complete: Four years (If you have an ADN, you can transfer nursing programs with your earned credits and complete your program faster with an RN-to-BSN bridge program.)
  • Skills Learned: In addition to practical nursing skills, you will learn communication, management, and leadership skills in the classroom and clinical hours.

Pain Management Nurse Licensure and Certification

Certification is not legally required for pain management nursing, but most employers require or strongly prefer it for mid- and higher-level positions. It shows your knowledge and commitment to pain management nursing. Continuing education requirements also show that you are current in best practices in this rapidly changing field.

RN Licensure

  • RN licensure is required for this nursing career.
  • You get an RN license by graduating from an accredited nursing school with an ADN or a BSN and passing the NCLEX-RN. You must meet other state licensing requirements, such as a criminal background check.
  • You need to participate in continuing education for nurses and must not have engaged in unprofessional conduct.

Pain Management Nursing Certification (PMGT-BC™)

  • Certification in pain management nursing is not legally required, but it is valuable.
  • Certification requires at least 2,000 hours of experience in pain management nursing and at least 30 hours of continuing education in the last three years. At least two years of full-time nursing is expected. You must also pass the exam.
  • You renew your certification every five years through continuing education and ongoing experience in pain management nursing.

Working as a Pain Management Nurse

Once you receive your license, you can start working as a pain management nurse. While nearly every nursing position involves pain management at some level, you can gain the most experience in surgery, oncology, and physical or occupational therapy. Geriatrics, rheumatology, or similar specialties are also good options.

While most pain management nursing is done in hospitals, physicians’ offices, and residential care, pain management nurses also work in home healthcare nursing, military facilities, and correctional nursing settings.

Pain management nursing salaries are among the highest in nursing. According to Indeed, the average annual salary for pain management nurses as of October 2021 is $104,310. By comparison, the median annual salary for registered nurses in general, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is $75,330. The reasons for the higher salary include the common requirement of a BSN for pain management nursing and high demand for certified pain management nurses.

Pain management nurses can expect to perform different responsibilities depending on their work setting:

Frequently Asked Questions About Becoming a Pain Management Nurse

How long does it take to become a pain management nurse?

It takes at least two years to earn an ADN and become licensed. You can start pain management nursing in an entry-level position. However, most pain management nurses have at least two years of nursing experience (required for certification) and a four-year BSN degree.

What opportunities for advancement are available for pain management nurses?

If you have an ADN, you can earn a BSN. Certification can be valuable for advancement, and many employers require or strongly prefer it for higher-level or management positions. You can also become a pain management nurse practitioner. This role offers more autonomy and a higher salary.

Can you become a pain management nurse online?

You can earn your nursing degree online. However, clinical experience for an online nursing student must be completed in person. Most schools will help you find a clinical placement in your community. Once you have your nursing license, you can take the required continuing education for certification online.

What other healthcare professionals do pain management nurses work with?

Pain management nursing calls for working with many other healthcare professionals. You will work with physicians or nurse practitioners who prescribe pain medication. Depending on your workplace, you may work with surgeons, geriatricians, oncologists, rheumatologists, and other specialists. In residential care, you might work with social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, or other mental health specialists.

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Portrait of Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, CCRN, RN

Shrilekha Deshaies, MSN, CCRN, RN

Shri Deshaies MSN, RN, CCRN, is a nurse educator with over 20 years of teaching experience. She is a certified critical care nurse and has worked in various surgical intensive care units, including cardiovascular, trauma, and neurosurgery. Her passion for health equity led her to becoming a community home health nurse. She is a founding member of Nurses Serving our Neighbors which advocates for the homeless population. Deshaies recently completed a course to become a faith community nurse.

Shrilekha Deshaies is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.


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