What Qualifies a Doctor as a Pain Specialist?

What Qualifies a Doctor as a Pain Specialist

What Qualifies a Doctor as a Pain Specialist?

All the doctors here at Lone Star Pain Medicine are certified pain specialists. Pain management is their specialty; it is what they focus on. That being the case, you might wonder what qualifies a doctor as a pain specialist. How is a pain management doctor any different than a primary care physician?

It’s a fair question and one that deserves an answer. Let us start with the understanding that both pain management doctors and primary care physicians undergo years of medical training. Both attend medical school and get their degrees. Both must pass licensing exams and undergo residencies. Their main differences are rooted in their choice of specialties.

It Starts With Medical School

Because pain medicine doctors are physicians first, they must go to medical school to earn either a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Osteopathic Medicine (OM) degree. This is non-negotiable. A future pain medicine doctor cannot do anything without first obtaining a degree.

A medical school education covers everything from biology to physiology and human anatomy to pathology. With a degree in hand, a doctor moves on to residency.

A Period of Training

What is residency? Residency is essentially a period of training that prepares a doctor according to his or her chosen specialty. Someone hoping to become a pain management doctor could choose from among several different specialties for residency. Examples include:

  • Anesthesiology.
  • Neurology.
  • Internal medicine.
  • Physical medicine and Rehab.

A typical residency lasts a full year. It is a time of intense training in which the resident gains knowledge through hands-on experience. Medical residents work alongside licensed and certified physicians who show them the ropes, so to speak.

At the conclusion of residency, a doctor has just one more educational step to become a pain management specialist. That step is the pain management fellowship. Fellowships also last for about a year.

A Better Understanding of Pain Management

The point of the fellowship is to give the doctor a better understanding of pain management. This understanding is one of the primary differences between pain specialists and primary care doctors. A pain specialist has undergone a fellowship to gain a deeper understanding of:

  • Assessing and diagnosing pain.
  • Non-invasive pain management techniques.
  • Interventional pain management.
  • The multidisciplinary approach to managing pain.

The fellowship period offers a doctor an opportunity to understand pain from a different perspective. Pain is no longer just a symptom of another condition. It is something to be treated and managed. The fellowship provides a fresh perspective. It helps doctors see pain in a very different way.

It’s on to Board Certification

After so many years in medical school, residency, and at least one fellowship, the only remaining obstacle to becoming a pain specialist is board certification. Most pain specialists sit for a certification exam offered by one of two accrediting entities: the American Board of Anesthesiology and the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. Both offer nationally recognized certification exams.

Passing the exam certifies a doctor as a pain specialist. But it’s not the end of the line for many of us in pain management. It is common practice among pain specialists to seek out additional educational opportunities so as to specialize in things like chronic or cancer pain management.

In the end, the line of distinction between a pain specialist in any other type of doctor is the combination of education and hands-on training. Pain specialists spend a great deal of time focusing on learning how to effectively manage pain. It’s no different than a cardiologist who knows the heart inside out or an oncologist whose training has focused largely on treating cancer.

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