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End-of-life care in the curriculum: a national study of medical education deans

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Sullivan, A. M.; Warren, A. G.; Lakoma, M. D.; Liaw, K. R.; Hwang, D.; Block, S. D.

PURPOSE: To describe attitudes and practices of end-of-life care teaching in the undergraduate medical curriculum in the United States as reported by administrative leadership and identify opportunities for improvement. METHOD: A telephone survey of associate deans for medical education or curricular affairs at a random sample of 62 accredited U.S. medical schools was conducted in 2002. RESULTS: Fifty-one deans participated (82% response rate). Most (84%) described end-of-life care education as "very important" and supported incorporating more end-of-life care teaching into the undergraduate curriculum. Sixty-seven percent reported that insufficient time is currently given to palliative care in their curriculum. Although a majority opposed required courses (59%) or clerkships (70%) that focused on end-of-life care, they did unanimously endorse integrating teaching end-of-life care into existing courses or clerkships. Key barriers to incorporating more end-of-life care into the curriculum included lack of time in the curriculum, lack of faculty expertise, and absence of a faculty leader. CONCLUSION: Associate deans for medical education or curricular affairs in the United States support integrating end-of-life care content into existing courses and clerkships throughout the undergraduate medical curriculum. Successful integration will require institutional investment in faculty development, including both the development of faculty leaders to drive change efforts, and the education of all faculty who teach students and exert influence as role models and mentors. The strong support for end-of-life care education expressed by academic leaders in this study, combined with the high level of interest expressed in the authors’ 2001 national survey of students, provide evidence of the potential for meaningful change in the undergraduate medical curriculum.

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