Background: By 2013 Palliative Care will become a mandatory examination subject in the medical curriculum in Germany. There is a pressing need for effective and well-designed curricula and assessment methods. Debates are on going as how Undergraduate Palliative Care Education (UPCE) should be taught and how knowledge and skills should be assessed. It is evident by this time that the development process of early curricula in the US and UK has led to a plethora of diverse curricula which seem to be partly ineffective in improving the care for the seriously ill and dying offered by newly qualified doctors, as is demonstrated in controlled evaluations. The goals of this study were to demonstrate an evidence-based approach towards developing UPCE curricula and investigate the change in medical students' self-perceived readiness to deal with palliative care patients and their families.
Methods: To evaluate the effects of the UPCE curriculum we chose a prospective, controlled, quasi-experimental, pre, retrospective-pre, post study design. A total of n = 37 3rd and 4th -year medical students were assigned to the intervention group (n = 15; 4th -year) and to the control group (n = 22; 3rd-year). Resting on the self-efficacy concept of Bandura the measurement was conducted by a refined test-battery based on two independent measurements (the revised Collet-Lester-Fear-of-Death-Scale and the instrument of the "Program in Palliative Care Education and Practice" at Harvard Medical School) including 68 items altogether in a five-point Likert-scale. These items were designed to test elementary skills in caring for the dying and their relatives as perceived by medical undergraduates. Datasets from both groups were analysed by paired and independent two-sample t-test. The TREND statement for reporting non-randomized evaluations was applied for reporting on this quasi-experimental study.
Results: Three constructs showed statistically significant differences comparing the intervention group before and after. Willingness to accompany a dying patient increased from 21.40 to 37.30 (p < .001). Self-estimation of competence in communication with dying patients and their relatives increased from 12.00 to 23.60 (p = .001). Finally, self-estimation of knowledge and skills in Palliative Care increased from 8.30 to 13.20 (p = .001).
Conclusions: This study is a small but systematic step towards rigorous curricular development in palliative care. Our manualised curriculum is available for scrutiny and scientific feedback to support an open and constructive process of best-practice comparison in palliative care.