Cancer pain management skills among medical students: The development of a cancer pain objective structured clinical examination

Paul A. Sloan, Margaret A. Plymale, Mitzi Johnson, Barbara Vanderveer, Pat LaFountain, David A. Sloan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Recent surveys suggest that most physicians have inadequate knowledge to assess and manage cancer pain; however, the important domain of clinical performance has not yet been clearly evaluated. The Objective Structured Clinical Examination (OSCE) has become a widely- used and accepted method to evaluate the clinical abilities of medical students. The purpose of this study was to develop and test a Cancer Pain OSCE for medical students evaluating their clinical competence in the area of cancer pain management. A four-component Cancer Pain OSCE was developed and presented to 34 third-year medical students during a sixteen-week combined medicine/surgery clerkship. The content of the objective criteria for each component of the OSCE was developed by a multidisciplinary group of pain experts. The OSCE was designed to assess the students' cancer pain management skills of pain history-taking, focused physical examination, analgesic management of cancer pain, and communication of opioid analgesia myths. Actual cancer survivors were used in the five-minute individual stations. The students were asked to complete a cancer pain history, physical examination, manage cancer pain using analgesics, and communicate with a family member regarding opioid myths. Clinical performance was evaluated using pre-defined checklists. Results showed the student's average performance for the history component was the highest of all four components of the examination. Out of 34 points possible on this clinical skills item, students on average (SD) scored 24.5 (5.2), or 72%. For the short-answer analgesic management component of the Cancer Pain OSCE, the overall score was 32%. Most students managed cancer pain with opioids, however, very few prescribed regular opioid use, and the use of adjuvant analgesics was uncommon. Student performance on the focused cancer pain physical examination was, in general, poor. On average students scored 61% on the musculoskeletal system, but only 31% on both the neurological and lymphathic examination. The overall percent score for the cancer pain OSCE was 48%. We conclude that the Cancer Pain OSCE is a useful performance-based tool to test individual skills in the essential components of cancer pain assessment and management. Of the four components of the Cancer Pain OSCE, medical students performed best on the cancer pain history and performed poorly on the cancer pain physical examination. Information gained from this study will provide a foundation on which future small-group medical student structured teaching will be based.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)298-306
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2001

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by NIH Grant CA 72695.


  • Cancer pain
  • Education
  • Medical students
  • Performance-based evaluation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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