Background: To care for terminally ill and dying patients requires a thorough medical education, encompassing skills, knowledge, and attitudes in the field of palliative care. Undergraduate medical students in Germany will receive mandatory teaching in palliative care in the near future driven by recent changes in the Medical Licensure Act. Before new curricula can be implemented, the knowledge of medical students with respect to palliative care, their confidence to handle palliative care situations correctly, their therapeutic attitude, and their subjective assessment about previous teaching practices have to be better understood.
Method: We designed a composite, three-step questionnaire (self estimation of confidence, knowledge questions, and opinion on the actual and future medical curriculum) conducted online of final - year medical students at two universities in Germany.
Results: From a total of 318 enrolled students, 101 responded and described limited confidence in dealing with specific palliative care issues, except for pain therapy. With regard to questions examining their knowledge base in palliative care, only one third of the students (33%) answered more than half of the questions correctly. Only a small percentage of students stated they had gained sufficient knowledge and experience in palliative care during their studies, and the vast majority supported the introduction of palliative care as a mandatory part of the undergraduate curriculum.
Conclusion: This study identifies medical students' limited confidence and knowledge base in palliative care in 2 German universities, and underlines the importance of providing a mandatory palliative care curriculum.