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48 Junior doctors and end of life care: a systematic review and narrative synthesis
  1. Aamena Bharmal1,2,
  2. Tessa Morgan1 and
  3. Stephen Barclay1
  1. ¹Primary Care Unit, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, University of Cambridge, UK
  2. ²Addenbrooke’s Hospital, University of Cambridge, UK


Background Nearly 50% of all deaths in the UK occur in hospitals.1 The majority of these patients die in a generalist setting2 where their medical care is predominately provided by junior doctors. There is a growing recognition of a need to embed palliative care into doctors’ training.3

Little evidence exists, however, concerning junior doctors’ current experiences of palliative care.

Aims To review the empirical literature between 2000 and 2018 concerning junior doctors experience of and preparation for palliative and end of life care.

Methods Systematic review and narrative synthesis of qualitative and quantitative studies within six databases to find empirical studies on junior doctors experience of adult palliative care in inpatient hospital or hospice settings.

Results From the initial 6308 titles identified, 32 studies met the inclusion criteria with a further five identified from reference searching.

Three key themes were identified:

  1. ‘Significance of death and dying’

  2. ‘Thrown into the deep end’

  3. ‘Addressing the gaps’. All the studies provided evidence that junior doctors care for many dying patients very early in their career. Junior doctors do not feel adequately prepared to care for dying patients and feel unsupported when doing so. Junior doctors report emotional distress when caring for their first few dying patients, memories of which continue to affect them throughout their careers. Their attitudes towards end–of–life care varied: some reported it as a privilege while others associated it with a culture of disengagement that stigmatised dying patients.

Conclusions Junior doctors need further support, education and preparation for their exposure to palliative care. Experiential learning, reflective practice and role modelling are described as the most effective ways to learn palliative care and this also teaches them other transferrable skills such as communication, teamwork and professionalism that are vital for their future careers.


  1. . Office for National Statistics Deaths Registered in England and Wales2016.

  2. . Gomes B, Higginson I. Where people die (1974–2030): Past trends, future projections and implications for care. Palliative Med2008;22:33–41.

  3. . General Medical Council. Tomorrow’s doctors: Recommendations on undergraduate medical education 2002 (2nd ed.). London: GMC.

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