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Medical student confidence in care of the dying and their family: a systematic review


Background The General Medical Council expects medical graduates to care for dying patients with skill, clinical judgement and compassion. UK surveys continually demonstrate low confidence and increasing distress amongst junior doctors when providing care to the dying.

Aim This systematic review aims to determine what has been evidenced within worldwide literature regarding medical undergraduate confidence to care for dying patients.

Design A systematic electronic search was undertaken. Data extraction included measurements of baseline confidence, associated assessment tools and details of applied educational interventions. Pre/postintervention confidence comparisons were made. Factors influencing confidence levels were explored.

Data sources MEDLINE, CINAHL, EMBASE, ISI Web of Science, ERIC, PsycINFO, British Education Index and Cochrane Review databases were accessed, with no restrictions on publication year. Eligible studies included the terms ‘medical student’, ‘confidence’ and ‘dying’, alongside appropriate MeSH headings. Study quality was assessed using the Mixed Methods Appraisal Tool.

Results Fifteen eligible studies were included, demonstrating a diversity of assessment tools. Student confidence was low in provision of symptom management, family support, and psycho-spiritual support to dying patients. Eight interventional studies demonstrated increased postinterventional confidence. Lack of undergraduate exposure to dying patients and lack of structure within undergraduate palliative care curricula were cited as factors responsible for low confidence.

Conclusion This review clarifies the objective documentation of medical undergraduate confidence to care for the dying. Identifying where teaching fails to prepare graduates for realities in clinical practice will help inform future undergraduate palliative care curriculum planning.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42019119057.

  • terminal care
  • medical students
  • confidence

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