Pain medicine is the subspecialty of medicine that focuses on both acute and chronic pain that patients with a myriad of health concerns experience. It generally falls under anesthesiology or physical medicine and rehabilitation. Those who practice this type of medicine are referred to as pain medicine or pain management specialists.

Many times, pain medicine specialists will work with an interdisciplinary team of healthcare professionals to assess and alleviate pain, which may be the main focus of or a symptom of a particular medical case. The goal of this practice is to make a patient comfortable at present and in the future.

Are you interested in helping ease pain and improve the quality of a patient’s daily life? If so, this subspecialty could be an excellent match for you. Continue reading below for information on the education required to obtain a certification in this area and what to expect as a pain medicine specialist.



As with every physician, future pain medicine specialties will need to apply for residency upon graduation and passing the USMLE. Because pain medicine is a subspecialty, medical graduates must complete a more general residency before focusing on the subspecialty alone. While those interested in pain medicine can complete a residency in any medical specialty of their choice, most select either anesthesiology or pain medicine and rehabilitation. The curriculum in these residencies focuses on material that will provide pain medicine specialists with the foundation they need for future learning in the subspecialty.

When it comes to selecting one of these two specialties, international medical graduates may want to consider the makeup of residency programs in both. During 2019, there were 6,507 anesthesiology residents, 854 of whom identified as IMGs. They make up roughly 13% of anesthesiology residents, which is more than the 11% found in the specialty of physical medicine and rehabilitation. In 2019, this specialty had just 1,395 residents, 150 of which identified as IMGs.

When following a residency in one of the medical specialties listed above, physician hopefuls must complete a pain medicine fellowship. This must last a minimum of 12 months and be certified by the American Council of Graduate Medical Education. Upon completion of this fellowship, an individual may apply for their subspecialty certification in pain medicine. Applying requires individuals to pass an exam administered by the American Board of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.


Practicing as a Physician

Pain management specialists need in-depth knowledge of human physiology in addition to excellent communication and analytic skills. Such skills can help lead these professionals to a course of care promptly, making their patients happier and healthier.

When it comes to compensation, these specialists make a good living, with a  median annual salary for a pain medicine specialist is $345,836.

Although a pain management education is flexible, and the income is decent, pain management specialists do have hurdles to overcome. This profession can be demanding in terms of the time it requires, and there is always the concern that a patient is merely looking for pain medication and struggling with addiction. With time, training, and lots of practice, it is possible to assess and address both obstacles.


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