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Does palliative care education matter to medical students? The experience of attending an undergraduate course in palliative care


Background Palliative care (PC) education has become a priority in many European countries where PC is quickly developing. There remains, however, a lack of information on acceptability and medical students’ experiences in PC education. This kind of information is important because it could encourage universities to adapt their curricula appropriately to the demographic and societal necessity.

Objective To explore medical students’ reactions to an optional PC course using their reflective written comments.

Methods 316 medical students at the University of Navarra, over a period of 4 years, wrote evaluative comments regarding their experience and what they perceived as the course's contribution to their education. With these comments, a qualitative thematic analysis was carried out.

Results With a response ratio of 90%, five main themes were identified: (1) The course helped medical students to become and act as doctors, (2) The benefits of having a holistic view of the patient and taking the family into account, (3) PC opens up a new a field of knowledge, (4) The course makes students think and reflect on their personal development and encourages them to deepen humanistic aspects of their practice, (5) The practical aspect is essential in PC learning. In addition, significantly, students used vigorous and positive expressions when writing about their experiences.

Discussion The subject of PC turns out to be very important to students, who almost unanimously evaluated their experience positively and highlighted the benefits of attending a PC course. Students especially reported being surprised by the humane and holistic features of the course, and they found that what they learned in the course is applicable to all patients and prepares them to work better as doctors. Participants recommend the course for all undergraduate students as a core component of the curricula.

  • Education and training
  • Supportive care

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