Detecting attitudinal changes about death and dying as a result of end-of-life care curricula for medical undergraduates

J Palliat Med. 2005 Oct;8(5):975-86. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2005.8.975.


Background: There is heightened emphasis on teaching end-of-life (EOL) care in the medical school curriculum, but a relative paucity of tools focused on assessing key attitudinal changes due to curricula.

Objective: We sought to evaluate the responsiveness of two validated measures of relevant attitudes to changes caused by two EOL curricula: a year-long Elective and a day-long Inter-Clerkship for medical undergraduates.

Design: A case control design (n = 100) and a one group pretest-posttest design (n = 98) were used to ask: (1) Are these two attitudinal measures responsive to changes induced by two undergraduate EOL curricula? (2) Do these two curricula have an additive effect (i.e., taking both yields a stronger attitudinal change than taking only one)? (3) Are there attitudinal and sociodemographic differences between students who took the year-long elective EOL course and those who did not?

Subjects: Undergraduate medical students.

Measurements: Two self-report measures: Concept of a Good Death and Concerns about Dying.

Results: Compared to nonelective participants, Elective participants reported less concern about working with dying patients at the end of the course and increased their valuation of clinical criteria in thinking about a "good death." There were trends suggesting decreased general concern about dying and increased valuation of closure, and an interaction suggesting a larger impact on those with higher precourse concern scores. There were no differences between elective and nonelective participants at baseline. The Interclerkship increased students' valuation of personal control aspects of death, and there was a trend in reducing concerns about working with dying patients. We did not find an additive effect of taking both curricula.

Conclusions: We conclude that both measures were responsive to the relatively large effects this study would have been able to detect, and may be useful in future research to substantiate the effectiveness of EOL curricula in influencing attitudes and level of comfort with death and dying.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Attitude of Health Personnel*
  • Attitude to Death*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Clinical Clerkship*
  • Curriculum
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Massachusetts
  • Program Evaluation
  • Terminal Care*