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Palliative care in medical practice: medical students' expectations
  1. Ruth Diver1,
  2. Thelma Quince1,
  3. Stephen Barclay1,
  4. John Benson1,
  5. James Brimicombe1,
  6. Diana Wood2 and
  7. Pia Thiemann1
  1. 1 The Primary Care Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  2. 2 School of Clinical Medicine, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Ruth Diver, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, Institute of Public Health, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 0SR, UK; ruthdiver{at}


Objectives During their careers, all doctors will be involved in the care of the dying, and this is likely to increase with current demographic trends. Future doctors need to be well-prepared for this. Little is known about medical students’ expectations about providing palliative care. Our aim was to investigate how satisfying students expect palliative care to be, and any attitudes towards palliative care associated with a negative expectation.

Methods Fifteen UK medical schools participated in the study, with 1898 first and final year students completing an online questionnaire which investigated how satisfying they expect providing palliative care to be and their attitudes towards palliative care.

Results At both the beginning and end of their training, a significant proportion of students expect palliative care to be less satisfying than other care (19.3% first year, 16% final year). Students expecting palliative care to be less satisfying were more likely to be men, and their attitudes suggest that while they understand the importance of providing palliative care they are concerned about the potential impact of this kind of work on them personally.

Conclusions Medical student education needs to address why palliative care is important and how to deliver it effectively, and the strategies for dealing positively with the impact of this work on future clinicians.

  • education and training

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  • Contributors The study was conceived, designed and developed by TQ, JB, JBr, PT, SB and DW. JBr was responsible for data collection. Data analysis was undertaken by RD, TQ and PT, and interpretation by RD, JB, SB, TQ and PT. RD undertook the preliminary drafting of the paper, which JB, SB, PT, JBr, DW and TQ revised critically for intellectual context. All authors have read and approved the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Ethics approval University of Cambridge Psychology Research Ethics Committee.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Further information regarding the data present is available. Please contact PT (