Introduction: Spirituality is a major domain of palliative medicine training. No data exist on how it is taught, nor is there a consensus about the content or methods of such education. We surveyed palliative medicine fellowship directors in the United States to learn how they teach spirituality, who does the teaching, and what they teach.
Methods: A PubMed (<www.pubmed.gov>) search using the terms "spirituality" and "medical education" was completed. Thirty-two articles outlined spirituality education content and methods in medical schools and residency programs. From these articles, a survey on spirituality education in palliative medicine fellowship training was prepared, pilot-tested, revised, and then distributed by e-mail in June 2004 to the 48 U.S. palliative medicine fellowship directors listed on the American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine (AAHPM) website, but excluding the three fellowship programs represented by the authors. Follow-up requests were sent by email twice during the 6-week collection period. The Institutional Review Board at the Medical College of Wisconsin approved the study.
Results: Fourteen fellowship directors completed the survey (29% of all programs; 42% of those currently teaching fellows as indicated on the AAHPM website). All programs indicated they taught "spirituality"; 12 of 14 had separate programs for teaching spirituality and 2 of 14 reported they taught spirituality to their fellows but not as a distinct, separate program. All respondents taught the definitions of spirituality and religion, common spiritual issues faced by patients at end of life (which was not defined further), and the role of chaplains and clergy. Chaplains provided spirituality education in all of the responding programs, but other team members were frequently involved. The most common formats for education in the domains of knowledge and attitudes were small group discussion, lecture, and self-study. Small group discussion, supervision, and shadowing a chaplain or other professional were the most common methods used for skills. Faculty written or oral evaluations of fellows were the most common forms of evaluation, with little evidence of more robust assessment methods, such as structured role-play (none of the programs surveyed).
Conclusions: Palliative medicine fellowship programs generally agree on the content of training on spirituality, but have not incorporated robust educational and evaluation methods to ensure that fellows have obtained the desired attitudes, knowledge, and skills to meet the Initial Voluntary Program Standards for Residency Education in Palliative Medicine of the American Board of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Based on the survey data and results from the literature review, broad recommendations are made to enhance spirituality education.