Progress and divergence in palliative care education for medical students: A comparative survey of UK course structure, content, delivery, contact with patients and assessment of learning

Palliat Med. 2016 Oct;30(9):834-42. doi: 10.1177/0269216315627125. Epub 2016 Feb 4.


Background: Effective undergraduate education is required to enable newly qualified doctors to safely care for patients with palliative care and end-of-life needs. The status of palliative care teaching for UK medical students is unknown.

Aim: To investigate palliative care training at UK medical schools and compare with data collected in 2000.

Design: An anonymised, web-based multifactorial questionnaire.

Settings/participants: Results were obtained from palliative care course organisers at all 30 medical schools in 2013 and compared with 23 medical schools (24 programmes) in 2000.

Results: All continue to deliver mandatory teaching on 'last days of life, death and bereavement'. Time devoted to palliative care teaching time varied (2000: 6-100 h, mean 20 h; 2013: 7-98 h, mean 36 h, median 25 h). Current palliative care teaching is more integrated. There was little change in core topics and teaching methods. New features include 'involvement in clinical areas', participation of patient and carers and attendance at multidisciplinary team meetings. Hospice visits are offered (22/24 (92%) vs 27/30 (90%)) although they do not always involve patient contact. There has been an increase in students' assessments (2000: 6/24, 25% vs 2013: 25/30, 83%) using a mixture of formative and summative methods. Some course organisers lack an overview of what is delivered locally.

Conclusion: Undergraduate palliative care training continues to evolve with greater integration, increased teaching, new delivery methods and wider assessment. There is a trend towards increased patient contact and clinical involvement. A minority of medical schools offer limited teaching and patient contact which could impact on the delivery of safe palliative care by newly qualified doctors.

Keywords: Palliative care; data collection; education medical undergraduate; medical education; students medical; terminal care.

MeSH terms

  • Curriculum
  • Education, Medical, Undergraduate*
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care*
  • Students, Medical*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • United Kingdom