In 2010, a survey of Quebec healthcare professionals identified chronic pain management as the most significant future challenge to the public health system. The survey respondents were right. Current global estimates for people suffering from chronic pain are a staggering 60 million. Despite this fact, there is still little in the way of pain management teaching in most healthcare curricula.
Creating much-needed change in this area has been the goal of the online Graduate Certificate in Chronic Pain Management at McGill University since its launch in 2012. Having just marked its 10-year anniversary with more than 100 graduates, the program has been providing experienced healthcare professionals from around the world with an interdisciplinary, evidence-based curriculum in chronic pain management. Hosted by the School of Physical and Occupational Therapy (SPOT) at McGill, the program launched with support and collaboration from McGill’s Alan Edwards Centre for Research on Pain.
Interdisciplinary design reflects real-world approach to treatment
Just as chronic pain management is multifaceted and varied, so are the people who study and treat it. The Chronic Pain Management program’s educators—including researchers, clinicians, and academics—and learners come from a wide range of healthcare backgrounds including medicine, nursing, occupational therapy, pharmacology, physical therapy, psychology and other related disciplines.
The program’s unique offering gives learners the opportunity to be paired with a faculty or community supervisor to pursue an area of interest, either by doing a clinical practicum or a literature review on a specific topic in a directed reading course. This elective enriches their learning beyond what they experience within the certificate group, faculty and steering committee environment.
The program’s Steering Committee was initially formed to launch the program, and remains active to this day. Its members are chronic pain management experts and leaders in the McGill community. Mark Ware, MD, is an inaugural Steering Committee member and Affiliate Member, Department of Family Medicine at McGill. “Creating and implementing an entirely online graduate certificate in chronic pain has been a remarkable experience over the last 10 years,” he says. “We are fortunate to have a breadth of bilingual patients, faculty and students who have ensured that the program remains relevant, informed and engaging.”
Laurie Snider OT, PhD, Director and Associate Dean of SPOT, says the program is fulfilling its original goals. “The vision from the beginning was to develop an interdisciplinary program, and today, this continues to inform the curriculum development,” she says. “Ten years later we really see the success of this initiative both for our learners and graduates.”
Advancing technology, advancing the discussion
Monica Slanik, an Academic Associate at SPOT who studied occupational therapy at McGill and holds a graduate certificate in instructional design, chairs the Steering Committee. “The program is self-paced, with discussion forums, group assignments, interactive platforms, and online tutors who interact with learners on a daily basis,” she says. The program is also fully bilingual, with all courses, lectures, and materials available in English and French. “The healthcare professionals who enrol in our program have solid clinical backgrounds in their specific areas, and the interaction provides valuable opportunities to compare experiences and solve real clinical problems.”
The course content aligns with five major themes: the multidimensional nature of chronic pain, conditions, assessment, intervention and interdisciplinarity. The content is updated regularly to reflect advances in chronic pain management, and the instructional design component also constantly evolves. “Our online discussions are more fruitful with every new session because online tools have become easier to use and learners have become more adept at using them since the pandemic,” says Ms. Slanik. She adds that this technology is also contributing to more effective networking following the program.
Graduate success stories
The strength of the program can really be seen in the advances its graduates are making.
Mary Janevic, MPH, PhD, is a research associate professor at the School of Public Health, University of Michigan, who completed certificate program. “Through the program, I gained extensive knowledge in pain science, the biopsychosocial perspective, and the importance of multidisciplinary care,” she says, adding that she really valued learning about the importance of therapeutic alliance, communication and trust when teaching people pain self-management skills. Prof. Janevic conducted a pilot study of a chronic pain self-management support program for a mostly African American community in Detroit; its success led to a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. National Institutes of Health to expand the study to 400 participants.
John Colaneri is a physiotherapist in San Diego. “Completing the McGill program allowed me to adopt a new lens of approaching the patient from a broad biopsychosocial perspective,” he says. “This practice change happened through the rich interdisciplinary interactions and discussions in the program both during and after completing our assignments.”
Adriana Ferreira, an MD from Brazil currently living in Montreal who completed the program in the spring of 2022, believes that anyone working in chronic pain management would benefit from this certificate. “I am convinced that the level of knowledge learned is what we need to work together, more efficiently, to reduce the impact of chronic pain on the public healthcare system.”