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Simulation to improve medical student confidence and preparedness to care for the dying: a feasibility study


Background Undergraduate teaching currently fails to adequately prepare doctors to deliver ‘end-of-life’ care. Despite much evidence supporting simulation-based teaching, its use in medical undergraduate palliative and ‘end-of-life’ care curricula remain low.

Aim This study assesses whether simulation can improve the confidence and preparedness of medical students to provide holistic care to dying patients and their families, from clinical assessment to symptom management, communication and care after death.

Methods Six fourth-year medical students undertook individual simulations involving a dying patient (high-fidelity simulator) and family member (actor). Intentional patient death occurred in four of the six scenarios (although unexpected by students). Pre-simulation/post-simulation thanatophobia questionnaires measured student attitudes towards providing care to dying patients. Thematic analysis of post-simulation focus group transcripts generated qualitative data regarding student preparedness, confidence and value of the simulations.

Results Thematic analysis revealed that students felt the simulations were realistic, and left them better prepared to care for dying patients. Students coveted the ‘safe’ exposure to dying patient scenarios afforded by the simulations. Observed post-simulation reduction in mean thanatophobia scores was not found to be statistically significant (p=0.07).

Conclusions Results suggest a feasible potential for simulations to influence undergraduate medical student teaching on the care of a dying patient and their family. We believe that this study adds to the limited body of literature exploring the value of simulation in improving the confidence and preparedness of medical students to provide ‘end-of-life’ care. Further research into the cost-effectiveness of simulation is required to further support its application in this setting.

  • terminal care
  • education and training
  • quality of life
  • symptoms and symptom management
  • supportive care

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