Purpose: To explore how well medical schools prepare students to address end-of-life issues with their patients.
Method: In 1997, the authors surveyed 226 fourth-year students at Georgetown University School of Medicine and Mayo Medical School, assessing relevant knowledge, experiences, and attitudes, and the students' sense of preparedness to address end-of-life issues.
Results: Seventy-two percent (162) of the eligible students responded. Almost all (99%) recognized the importance of advance directives and anticipated discussing end-of-life issues with patients in their practices (84%). However, only 41% thought their education regarding end-of-life issues had been adequate, only 27% had ever discussed end-of-life issues with a patient themselves, and only 35% thought they had had adequate exposure and education regarding advance directives. Eighty percent favored more education about end-of-life issues. Educational exposure to end-of-life issues and to role models, ability to correctly define an advance directive, number of end-of-life discussions witnessed, and age all were associated the students' sense of preparedness to discuss advance directives with patients.
Conclusion: Most of the students felt unprepared to discuss end-of-life issues with their patients, but wanted to learn more. The factors associated with a sense of preparedness suggest several possible, easily made, educational interventions, but further research is required to understand the scope of the problem and to implement curricular modifications.