Is a career in pain medicine right for me?

Pain medicine is a dynamic and rewarding career choice for specialists looking for a new challenge. Find out what it involves; where it can take you; and how to get started.

In Australia and New Zealand, a career as a specialist pain medicine physician involves qualifying as a fellow of the Faculty of Pain Medicine, Australian and New Zealand College of Anaesthetists (FFPMANZCA).

Because pain medicine is a post-specialist qualification, all specialist pain medicine physicians will already have - or be training towards - another acceptable specialist medical qualification, including anaesthesia, medicine, surgery, psychiatry or rehabilitation medicine.

Faculty fellows talk about what made them want to become pain specialists.

Why should I consider a career in pain medicine?

Pain medicine has been recognised as a separate specialty since 2005 in Australia and 2012 in New Zealand, and the countries are considered to be pioneers in the field. Our faculty was the first of its kind in the world when it was formed in 1998.

It's multidisciplinary nature makes it a dynamic and rewarding career choice for specialists who want a new challenge. 

Why is pain medicine a separate specialty?

Severe, persistent and unrelieved pain is recognised as one of the world’s major healthcare needs. It carries serious financial and social implications for individuals, families and communities.

In the last quarter of the 20th century, clinicians became increasingly aware that, in contrast to other fields of medical endeavour, knowledge relevant to the care of patients with pain had lagged far behind. Consequently, the needs of many people experiencing pain were not being met.

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What does pain medicine involve in practice?

The field of pain medicine recognises that the management of severe pain requires the skills of more than one medical craft group. Contemporary pain therapy uses sociological (behavioural), psychological and biomedical strategies to identify:

  • What is happening to the patient’s body.
  • What is happening to them as a person.
  • What is happening in their world.

These factors are explored as contributors to the patient's experience of pain. This approach provides an overarching multifaceted, person-centred approach to health and wellbeing.

The basic and clinical science content of pain medicine is extraordinarily broad and is one of the most rapidly expanding areas of the neurosciences.

The linkage between the science and practice of pain medicine has strengthened at a great pace, adding to the satisfaction of medical practice.

Many specialists spend significant amounts of time in clinical and/or basic research. Involvement in undergraduate and postgraduate teaching is also a high priority to bridge the current knowledge gap.

What does a specialist pain medicine physician do?

Specialist pain medicine physicians (pain specialists) serve as a consultant to other physicians; often as the principal treating physician. The spectrum of care they provide includes:

  • Education.
  • Co-ordinating rehabilitation.
  • Directing a multidisciplinary team.
  • Offering evidence-based advice and practice with regard to medication and procedural interventions.
  • Counselling patients and families.
  • Collaborating with other health care professionals and agencies.

Pain specialists work with a large degree of autonomy but in the context of a multidisciplinary team-based approach to the diagnosis and management of complex pain problems.

Those involved in the management of chronic non-cancer and cancer pain accept major responsibilities for continuity of care, in collaboration with the referring medical practitioners and with other specialist medical and allied health care professionals.

Pain specialists usually have a substantial commitment to outpatient consulting, inpatient consulting, multidisciplinary team meetings and, in some cases, procedural work.

Am I suited to specialist pain medicine?

Clinical skills and experience are important, of course, and pain specialists are some of the most qualified medical practitioners there are. But to truly succeed as a specialist pain medicine physician, you need particular personal qualities.

  • Can you apply high-level practical knowledge, skills and professional attitudes across unpredictable and complex situations?
  • Do you have the high personal standards of behaviour, accountability and leadership skills required to practice ethically for the health and wellbeing benefit of both individuals and society as a whole?
  • Are you prepared to learn, create, disseminate, apply, and translate knowledge in order to educate patients, students, colleagues and the community?
  • Are you an effective communicator, with the ability to listen, interpret and explain the predicament and concerns of the patient in a sociopsychobiomedical context?
  • Do you understand how personal beliefs and cultural bias may influence interactions with others?
  • Can you work effectively in a healthcare team to achieve optimal patient care?
  • Are you able to make and manage decisions about resource allocation as may apply personally, professionally and at an organisational level, to provide leadership and to contribute to the effectiveness of the healthcare system?
  • Will you use your expertise and influence responsibly to advance the health and wellbeing of patients, colleagues, and communities?

How do I specialise in pain medicine?

In Australia and New Zealand, pain medicine is a post-specialisation qualification. So to be eligible to register for our pain medicine training program, you must have either completed or be training towards a primary specialist qualification. Before applying, please check that you meet the following requirements:

  1. Do you hold a primary medical degree?
  2. Do you have specialist medical registration?
  3. Have you either qualified as a specialist in - or completed three years towards - an approved primary qualification?

The primary specialist qualification will need to be a qualification approved by the Faculty of Pain Medicine Board. The board will accept overseas qualifications that are deemed substantially or partially comparable by the Australian equivalent college. For any queries regarding whether your qualification is approved by the board, please contact us.


I am trained overseas in pain medicine. How do I practice in Australia or New Zealand?

If you trained as a specialist pain medicine physician overseas, we offer a Specialist International Medical Graduate pathway to allow you to practice in either Australia or New Zealand. To find out if you are eligible,click here.  


As an overseas specialist, can I undertake 12 months practice in Australia?

If you are an international qualified specialist or international specialist-in-training, you can undertake short-term training in Australia in pain medicine for 12 months. This pathway does not lead to fellowship. Find out more about the Short-term training pathway.

Last updated 10:55 17.02.2022