Needs assessment of current palliative care education in U.S. hematology/oncology fellowship programs

Support Care Cancer. 2021 Jan 7. doi: 10.1007/s00520-020-05919-7. Online ahead of print.


Background: Palliative care (PC) education for fellows in hematology/oncology (H/O) training programs is widely accepted, but no studies to date have assessed PC education practices and values among program leadership.

Methods: Program Directors and Associate Program Directors of active H/O fellowship programs in the U.S.A. were surveyed.

Results: Of 149 programs contacted, 84 completed the survey (56% response rate), of which 100% offered some form of PC education. The most frequently utilized methods of PC education were didactic lectures/conferences (93%), required PC rotations (68%), and simulation/role-playing (42%). Required PC rotations were ranked highest, and formal didactic seminars/conferences were ranked fifth in terms of perceived effectiveness. The majority felt either somewhat (60%) or extremely satisfied (30%) with the PC education at their program. Among specific PC domains, communication ranked highest, addressing spiritual distress ranked lowest, and care for the imminently dying ranked second lowest in importance and competency. Solid tumor oncologists reported more personal comfort with pain management (p = 0.042), non-pain symptom management (p = 0.014), ethical/legal issues (p = 0.029), reported their fellows were less competent in pain assessment/management (p = 0.006), and communication (p = 0.011), and were more satisfied with their program's PC education (p = 0.035) as compared with hematologists.

Conclusions: Significant disparities exist between those modalities rated most effective for PC education and those currently in use. Clinical orientation of program leadership can affect both personal comfort with PC skills and estimations of PC curriculum effectiveness and fellows' competency. H/O fellowship programs would benefit from greater standardization and prioritization of active PC education modalities and content.

Keywords: Fellowship; Hematology; Medical education; Medical oncology; Palliative care.