Pain is an intense, distressing symptom that can significantly hinder a person’s quality of life. Acute pain is triggered by nerves and transmitted to the central nervous system, but chronic pain endures long-term. Recent research found that over 50 million Americans are living with daily chronic pain. Whether it stems from arthritis, cancer, disease, or infection, chronic pain costs the United States at least $560 billion each year. Pain management nursing is a growing RN specialty focused on relieving pain to enhance patients’ physical, social, and psychological functioning. Pain management nurses help physicians administer treatments, such as NSAIDs, muscle relaxants, steroid injections, and nerve blocks. Pain management RNs may also operate Transcutaneous Electro-Nerve Simulators (TENS), give massages, or perform acupuncture to alleviate patient discomfort.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the over 2.6 million nurses in the United States earn an average yearly salary of $69,790, or $33.55 per hour, across specialties. Pain management nurses earn a slightly higher median salary of $78,000. Pain management nurses working in hospitals bring home an average $71,640, but the highest paid are employed by the federal government for $80,510 each year.

Beginning Salary

When just beginning practice, pain management nurses will likely end up the bottom 25th percentile of earnings with a yearly income under $54,620. However, experienced pain management RNs with supervisory roles can eventually make upwards of $98,880 each year. Those who advance as pain management nurse practitioners earn a median of $108,000.

Key Responsibilities

Pain management nurses have the primary responsibility of helping patients across the lifespan identify the cause of their pain and ease it. Pain management RNs will interview patients about their symptoms and medical histories before conducting a physical assessment. Operating x-rays, MRIs, and other diagnostic equipment to analyze patients’ conditions may be necessary. Under the supervision of a pain management physician, nurses will carry out a proper course of treatment that improves patients’ well-being. Pain management nurses must carefully administer narcotic pain relievers at correct dosages to prevent drug addiction. RNs also educate patients on coping strategies, such as therapeutic exercises, for effective at-home pain treatment.

Necessary Skills

Becoming a pain management nurse requires having the clinical judgment skills to pinpoint pain triggers that aren’t readily apparent. Communication skills are essential for RNs to clearly instruct patients on managing pain and taking addictive painkillers. Being detail-oriented with good organizational skills is a must for pain management RNs to ensure patients receive the right treatments at the right time. Analytical skills are essential for pain management nurses to avoid missing clues that could decide between life and death. Pain management RNs must have problem-solving skills to resolve tricky situations. It’s also important for pain management nurses to be compassionate and empathetic in caring for patients who are suffering.

Degree and Education Requirements

Before working in pain management, aspiring nurses must go beyond a high school diploma to earn an associate or bachelor’s degree. Although an associate degree in nursing (ADN) will qualify you for RN licensing in most states, having a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) is increasingly preferred. Four-year bachelor’s programs will include general education, nursing theory, and clinical practicum. Courses specifically in pharmacology, diagnostic imaging, pain assessment, interventional pain practice, rehabilitation, and allopathic treatment will be good career preparation. Attending graduate school for a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) allows pain management nurses to advance as nurse practitioners or clinical nurse specialists.

Pros and Cons of the Position

Like other RN jobs, pain management nurses experience a range of rewards and challenges in their practice. On the plus side, pain management nurses enjoy a bright job outlook that provides the peace of mind of job security. Pain management RNs typically earn slightly higher salaries than nurses in other specialties and have excellent benefits. They can select from diverse workplace settings from hospitals to private practices and senior centers. Nursing is an ever-evolving field that keeps your mind sharp and active. Pain management nurses also reap the reward of helping patients better their lives with less discomfort. On the other hand, RNs must be emotionally stable enough to watch patients suffer with crippling pain. Pain management nurses must invest significantly in their education and certification. Most pain management RNs work irregular hours with night and weekend shifts for 24/7 patient care. Pain management nurses also can be exposed to germs and viruses in sick patients.

Getting Started

During your schooling, start specializing your nursing career in pain management for your applied field practicum and clinical internships. At graduation, you’ll qualify for taking the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN) for state licensing. Passing a criminal background check and fingerprinting may also be required. Now start applying for entry-level staff RN jobs. Most employers want pain management nurses to have at least one year of patient bedside experience. Smoothly transitioning into pain management jobs will then become easier. The final step is to pursue board certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Pain management nurses acquiring the RN-BC credential must have active licensure and two years of full-time experience. At least 2,000 hours must be in pain management nursing. There’s a computer-based test given year-round with 175 multiple choice questions that you must pass. Maintaining ANCC certification requires 30 hours of continuing education every three years.

Future Outlook

It’s estimated that people aged 65 years or older will represent 21 percent of America’s total population by 2040. Older adults are significantly more prone to experiencing chronic pain from arthritis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, shingles, neuropathy, and obesity. Under the Affordable Care Act, more people will have the insurance required to treat their chronic pain rather than suffer in silence. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the employment of pain management nurses will grow by 16 percent through 2024, which is much faster than average. Having a bachelor’s degree and certification will provide the best prospects. Pain management jobs are most found in hospitals, physician offices, long-term rehabilitation centers, nursing homes, outpatient care centers, and oncology clinics.

Overall, pain management nurses are licensed RNs who are specially trained to develop strategies that alleviate their patients’ distressing pain. Pain management RNs play a pivotal role in monitoring pain by testing sensitivity and tracking vital signs. Some may focus on helping post-operative patients control pain with intravenous analgesics. If you decide to become a pain management nurse, you’ll touch patients’ lives by designing treatments that bring relief.