Medical students' palliative care education in a Latin American university: a three-year experience at Austral University in Buenos Aires, Argentina

J Palliat Med. 2014 Oct;17(10):1137-42. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2013.0673. Epub 2014 Sep 4.


Background: The School of Medicine of Austral University incorporated palliative care as an elective in undergraduate medicine curriculum during 2010.

Objective: We analyzed the experience and results after 3 years of teaching palliative care. We compared students who chose palliative care as an elective subject (PC Group) with students who did not (Non-PC Group). We focused on the experience of contact with palliative care patients and self-perceived attitudes. Additionally, the impact produced by palliative care education in knowledge, self-perceived attitudes, and comfort was evaluated.

Methods: All the students tested completed a questionnaire on their attitude when exposed to dying patients. Students in the PC Group completed an additional questionnaire to assess their level of knowledge and their self-perceived comfort when interacting with patients.

Results: We tested 146 students. All students in the PC Group and 95.2% in the Non-PC Group considered that specific death issues ought to be part of the curriculum. Some students indicated that they could be present in a mandatory course. Before taking their elective, students in the PC Group confirmed a lack of technical training to understand palliative care patients, as did those students in the Non-PC Group. After taking a palliative care elective students expressed an improvement in self-perceived attitudes toward suffering and there was a significant increase (p<0.0001-0.0045) in knowledge. They also expressed an improvement in comfort levels in evaluation and treatment of pain. More than 95% of the students in the PC Group rated the experience as valuable and perceived the content as not available elsewhere in their training.

Discussion/conclusion: Our results show that palliative care education provides opportunities to improve attitudes not specific to this discipline: interprofessional collaboration, holistic care, patient-centered care, self-awareness, and humanism. We conclude that an exposure to palliative care improved student's perception about the complexities of dying patients and their care.

MeSH terms

  • Argentina
  • Attitude of Health Personnel
  • Clinical Competence
  • Curriculum*
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Hospitals, University
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care*
  • Students, Medical* / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires