Palliative care education in U.S. medical schools

Med Educ. 2014 Jan;48(1):59-66. doi: 10.1111/medu.12292.


Context: Medical educators in the U.S.A. perceive the teaching of palliative care competencies as important, medical students experience it as valuable and effective, and demographic and societal forces fuel its necessity. Although it is encouraged by the Association of American Medical Colleges, the only palliative care-related mandate in U.S. medical schools is the Liaison Committee on Medical Education directive that end-of-life (EoL) care be included in medical school curricula, reinforcing the problematic conflation of EoL and palliative care.

Findings: A review of US medical school surveys about the teaching of palliative and EoL care reveals varied and uneven approaches, ranging from 2 hours in the classroom on EoL to weeks of palliative care training or hospice-based clinical rotations.

Implications: Palliative care competencies are too complex and universally important to be relegated to a minimum of classroom time, random clinical exposures, and the hidden curriculum.

Recommendations: Given the reality of overstrained medical school curricula, developmentally appropriate, basic palliative care competencies should be defined and integrated into each year of the medical school curriculum, taking care to circumvent the twin threats of curricular overload and educational abandonment.

MeSH terms

  • Clinical Competence / standards
  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate / methods*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care*
  • Schools, Medical
  • Teaching / methods
  • Terminal Care
  • United States