Objective: To assess the impact, retention, and magnitude of effect of a required didactic and experiential palliative care curriculum on third-year medical students' knowledge, confidence, and concerns about end-of-life care, over time and in comparison to benchmark data from a national study of internal medicine residents and faculty.
Design: Prospective study of third-year medical students prior to and immediately after course completion, with a follow-up assessment in the fourth year, and in comparison to benchmark data from a large national study.
Setting: Internal Medicine Clerkship in a public accredited medical school.
Participants: Five hundred ninety-three third-year medical students, from July 2002 to December 2007.
Main outcome measures: Pre- and postinstruction performance on: knowledge, confidence (self-assessed competence), and concerns (attitudes) about end-of-life care measures, validated in a national study of internal medicine residents and faculty. Medical student's reflective written comments were qualitatively assessed.
Intervention: Required 32-hour didactic and experiential curriculum, including home hospice visits and inpatient hospice care, with content drawn from the AMA-sponsored Education for Physicians on End-of-life Care (EPEC) Project.
Results: Analysis of 487 paired t tests shows significant improvements, with 23% improvement in knowledge (F(1,486)=881, p<0.001), 56% improvement in self-reported competence (F(1,486)=2,804, p<0.001), and 29% decrease in self-reported concern (F(1,486)=208, p<0.001). Retesting medical students in the fourth year showed a further 5% increase in confidence (p<0.0002), 13% increase in allaying concerns (p<0.0001), but a 6% drop in knowledge. The curriculum's effect size on M3 students' knowledge (0.56) exceeded that of a national cross-sectional study comparing residents at progressive training levels (0.18) Themes identified in students' reflective comments included perceived relevance, humanism, and effectiveness of methods used to teach and assess palliative care education.
Conclusions: We conclude that required structured didactic and experiential palliative care during the clinical clerkship year of medical student education shows significant and largely sustained effects indicating students are better prepared than a national sample of residents and attending physicians.