Hematology/oncology fellows' training in palliative care: results of a national survey

Cancer. 2011 Sep 15;117(18):4304-11. doi: 10.1002/cncr.25952. Epub 2011 Mar 1.


Background: Palliative care is recognized as integral to the practice of oncology, yet many oncologists report inadequate training in critical palliative care domains, such as symptom management, psychosocial care, and communication skills. The authors of this report sought to assess the quantity and quality of palliative care education within oncology fellowships.

Methods: Second-year oncology fellows completed a 104-item survey that was modified and adapted from a national survey of medical students and residents. Items allowed comparison between palliative care and nonpalliative care topics.

Results: Of 402 eligible fellows, 63.2% responded (n = 254). Respondents were: 52% men, 62% Caucasian, and 64% US medical school graduates. Twenty-six percent had completed a palliative care rotation. Fellows rated the overall quality of fellowship teaching more highly than teaching on palliative care (3.7 v 3.0 on a 1-5 scale; t = 10.2; P < .001). Rates of being observed (81%) and receiving feedback (80%) on an end-of-life communication skill were high. Psychosocial needs of patients received some attention: Fifty-seven percent of fellows reported that they were conveyed as a core competency, but only 32% of fellows received explicit education on assessing and managing depression at the end of life. Fellows rarely reported receiving explicit education on opioid rotation (33%). Fellows scored a median of 2 of 4 items that tested basic palliative care knowledge, and only 23% correctly performed an opioid conversion.

Conclusions: Fellows rated the quality of palliative care education as inferior to overall oncology training and may benefit from more teaching on pain management, psychosocial care, and communication skills.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attitude to Death
  • Communication
  • Education, Medical, Graduate*
  • Fellowships and Scholarships
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Hematology / education*
  • Hospice Care
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Oncology / education*
  • Pain Management
  • Pain Measurement
  • Palliative Care*
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Program Evaluation
  • Social Support
  • United States