A systematic review of teaching and learning in palliative care within the medical undergraduate curriculum

Med Teach. 2004 Dec;26(8):683-90. doi: 10.1080/01421590400019575.


End of life care or palliative care has been acknowledged as important over the last 30 years and it is essential that doctors have core training in palliative care during their undergraduate training. There is little knowledge of the nature of teaching of palliative care within the undergraduate curriculum. This review was undertaken to determine the evidence to create an effective and appropriate undergraduate curriculum in palliative care. All relevant databases were electronically searched from 1966 until 2001 and selected contemporary work included. Key authors were contacted and grey literature and conference abstracts were searched. Efforts were made to quality grade any evaluation studies of teaching, learning and assessment. Two hundred and eighty abstract citations were obtained--192 papers were excluded due to lack of relevance to this study. Eighty-eight abstracts were obtained and forty-nine papers included in the review. There were no randomized controlled trials of educational interventions or open effect studies. All studies included were descriptive and were graded as level of evidence C. The main findings include lack of consistency in what undergraduates are taught about palliative care. Teaching tends to be fragmented, ad hoc and lacks co-ordination. There are difficulties in recruiting appropriate teachers. Palliative care is rarely formally assessed. Teaching focused more on the acquisition of knowledge and skills rather than attitudes. It is suggested that guidelines should be established within each medical school to develop an integrated curriculum for palliative care with due reference to the multidisciplinary nature of palliative care.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Palliative Care*
  • Teaching