How effective is undergraduate palliative care teaching for medical students? A systematic literature review

BMJ Open. 2020 Sep 9;10(9):e036458. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2019-036458.

Abstract

Palliative care is central to the role of all clinical doctors. There is variability in the amount and type of teaching about palliative care at undergraduate level. Time allocated for such teaching within the undergraduate medical curricula remains scarce. Given this, the effectiveness of palliative care teaching needs to be known.

Objectives: To evaluate the effectiveness of palliative care teaching for undergraduate medical students.

Design: A systematic review was prepared according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidance. Screening, data extraction and quality assessment (mixed methods and Cochrane risk of bias tool) were performed in duplicate.

Data sources: Embase, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Web of Science, ClinicalTrials.gov, Cochrane and grey literature in August 2019. Studies evaluating palliative care teaching interventions with medical students were included.

Results: 1446 titles/abstracts and 122 full-text articles were screened. 19 studies were included with 3253 participants. 17 of the varied methods palliative care teaching interventions improved knowledge outcomes. The effect of teaching on clinical practice and patient outcomes was not evaluated in any study.

Conclusions: The majority of palliative care teaching interventions reviewed improved knowledge of medical students. The studies did not show one type of teaching method to be better than others, and thus no 'best way' to provide teaching about palliative care was identified. High quality, comparative research is needed to further understand effectiveness of palliative care teaching on patient care/clinical practice/outcomes in the short-term and longer-term.

Prospero registration number: CRD42018115257.

Keywords: adult palliative care; education & training (see medical education & training); general medicine (see internal medicine); medical education & training.