Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation





First Advisor

Dorothy Y. Brockopp, PhD, RN


The purpose of this dissertation is to explore potential barriers nurses experience in providing effective pain management for preterm and critically ill infants in neonatal intensive care units (NICUs). The specific aims of the study conducted are to examine (a) NICU caregivers’ knowledge about pain, (b) scales used to evaluate pain in infants, (c) NICU nurses’ documented pain practices, and (d) bias in treating pain of certain types of infants.

This dissertation is comprised of three manuscripts. The first manuscript is an integrated review of the literature describing caregiver knowledge, barriers, and bias in the management of pain in neonates. The second manuscript is a systematic review of multidimensional pain scales developed for use in preterm and critically ill infants. The final manuscript reports a descriptive exploratory study designed to examine nurses’ knowledge of pain, knowledge of intensity and appropriate management of procedural pain, bias in treating pain of certain types of infants, and documented pain management practices.

Over the past 25 years, caregiver knowledge of pain in preterm and critically ill infants has advanced from beliefs that neonates do not feel pain, to the knowledge that preterm infants experience more pain than term infants, older children, and adults. Nine multidimensional pain scales with varying levels of reliability and validity have been developed, yet a gold standard for pain assessment in preterm and critically ill neonates has not emerged. In this study, baccalaureate prepared nurses (BSN) and nurses with higher total years of nursing experience had better knowledge of pain in this population than associate degree nurses (ADN). However, pain management was inconsistent, resulting in pain that was untreated as often as 80% of the time. Nurses reported that physician practice was the primary obstacle to providing effective pain management. Additional concerns included knowledge deficits of nurses and physicians, lack of communication and teamwork, and rushed care. Nurses reported biases in managing pain and were less likely to invest time and energy treating the pain of infants experiencing neonatal abstinence syndrome.