Background: Physicians play a key role in the provision of quality end-of-life (EOL) care but often lack requisite knowledge and skills. Residency programs must ensure training in palliative/EOL care to address this gap.
Objective: To guide the development of curricula, we assessed internal medicine residents' attitudes, knowledge, perceived competence, and learning priorities in EOL care.
Design: Cross-sectional, self-administered, descriptive survey using a convenience sample.
Subjects: Internal medicine residents at five universities across Canada.
Results: Of a total of 318 internal medicine residents, 185 (58%) participated in the survey. The majority (81.7%) agreed learning from dying patients was meaningful although 48.1% felt guilty, and 40.6% a failure at least sometimes after a patient's death. Two thirds had provided care to more than 10 dying patients. Most (73%) had conducted at least 3 family meetings; 26.7% were never observed. Mean self-assessed preparedness to provide EOL care was 6.1 +/- 2 (scale 0-10) and mean comfort level 3.2 +/- 0.8 (scale 0-5). Residents reported more than average competence in 50% of EOL competencies listed with record keeping highest (3.6 +/- 0.7) and use of nonpharmacologic interventions for pain lowest (2.2 +/- 0.8). Priority for learning was rated above average for all EOL competencies listed with use of opioids for management of pain highest (4.1 +/- 0.9) and discussing euthanasia lowest (3.1 +/- 1.3).
Conclusions: Internal medicine residents value opportunities to learn from dying patients but often lack supervision and experience emotional distress. Comparing residents' attitudes, perceptions of competence, and learning priorities provide insights into why certain EOL competencies are more challenging to teach and can guide development of meaningful educational experiences.