Medical student knowledge of morphine for the management of cancer pain

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Inadequate training of physicians contributes to the undertreatmet of cancer pain. To address these concerns, the University of Kentucky has introduced a 4-week course for final-year medical students that teaches the principles of clinical pharmacology and pain management. The purposes of this study are to assess the knowledge deficits of final-year medical students about the use of morphine for cancer pain and to assess the efficacy of a short course on cancer pain management. Eighty-six final-year medical students completed a 22-item questionnaire assessing their knowledge and attitudes toward the use of morphine for cancer pain. Students indicated their agreement with each statement on a four-point scale (one, strongly disagree; four, strongly agree). All students then completed a compulsory short course on pain management. The course content included a 1-hr lecture on chronic nonmalignant pain, a 1-hr lecture on acute pain management, and a 1-hr lecture on cancer pain management. In addition, students completed small-group, problem-based learning modules on several aspects of pain management. After the course, all students completed the same 22-item survey. The alpha reliability score of the pretest instrument was 0.55, and the posttest reliability was 0.86. Upon course completion, students agreed most strongly (mean ± SEM) that morphine should be given on a regular schedule for cancer pain (3.41 ± 0.08), that cancer pain management frequently requires co-analgesics (3.36 ± 0.06), and that patients with good pain relief function better than those with continuing pain (3.39 ± 0.08). A comparison of pretest and posttest means on specific items suggested that the greatest amount of learning took place in the following content areas: morphine is a good oral analgesic; increases in cancer pain should be treated by increasing the morphine dose; respiratory depression is not a concern for cancer pain patients; and morphine can be used over a wide range of doses. The regular use of morphine was recognized as the treatment drug of choice for cancer pain. The students showed improved knowledge scores on ten of the 22 items on the posttest survey. A significant increase in learning occurred on six knowledge and attitude items. On only one item (nausea as a side effect of morphine) did the knowledge scores decrease on the posttest. A significant minority (40%) of senior medical students had deficits in knowledge about the use of morphine for cancer pain. The risk of addiction, respiratory depression, and tolerance were misunderstood by a significant minority (25 %) of students.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)359-364
Number of pages6
JournalJournal of Pain and Symptom Management
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1998


  • Analgesia
  • Cancer pain
  • Education
  • Medical students
  • Opioids

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing (all)
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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