Aim: To examine changes in formal teaching about death, dying and bereavement in undergraduate medical education in UK medical schools.
Methods: A short questionnaire based on one used in 2 previous surveys in 1983 and 1994 was sent to all UK medical schools.
Findings: All schools with clinical teaching provided teaching in this area. The amount of such teaching varied widely and appeared in the curriculum in a variety of manners, times and places. Specialists in palliative medicine, general practitioners and nurse specialists were most frequently involved in teaching, with decreased involvement of non-practitioners since 1983. Most schools covered a wide range of topics, with all addressing attitudes towards death and dying and symptom relief in advanced terminal illness. Some schools used terminally ill patients directly in their teaching and most included hospice participation. As the surveys conducted in 1983 and 1994 indicated, many schools do not address the evaluation of palliative care learning.
Analysis: Changes in undergraduate medical education, especially in terms of more integrated curricula, mean that for many schools, palliative care teaching is integrated into learning in other areas. This should help students apply their palliative care learning to other contexts. The increase in teaching about the management of physical symptoms that has occurred since the previous surveys seems to reflect the establishment of palliative medicine as a speciality and the current emphases within palliative care practice in the UK.
Conclusion: The preparation for palliative care work provided for current undergraduate medical students appears to be of a better quality than that provided in 1983.