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Original research
How effective is undergraduate palliative care teaching for medical students? A systematic literature review
  1. Jason W Boland1,
  2. Megan E L Brown2,
  3. Angelique Duenas2,
  4. Gabrielle M Finn3,
  5. Jane Gibbins4
  1. 1Wolfson Palliative Care Research Centre, Hull York Medical School, University of Hull, Hull, UK
  2. 2Health Professions Education Unit, Hull York Medical School, York, UK
  3. 3School of Medicine, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK
  4. 4Cornwall Hospice Care, Cornwall, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr Jason W Boland; Jason.Boland{at}


Palliative care is central to the role of all clinical doctors. There is variability in the amount and type of teaching about palliative care at undergraduate level. Time allocated for such teaching within the undergraduate medical curricula remains scarce. Given this, the effectiveness of palliative care teaching needs to be known.

Objectives To evaluate the effectiveness of palliative care teaching for undergraduate medical students.

Design A systematic review was prepared according to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses guidance. Screening, data extraction and quality assessment (mixed methods and Cochrane risk of bias tool) were performed in duplicate.

Data sources Embase, MEDLINE, PsycINFO, Web of Science,, Cochrane and grey literature in August 2019. Studies evaluating palliative care teaching interventions with medical students were included.

Results 1446 titles/abstracts and 122 full-text articles were screened. 19 studies were included with 3253 participants. 17 of the varied methods palliative care teaching interventions improved knowledge outcomes. The effect of teaching on clinical practice and patient outcomes was not evaluated in any study.

Conclusions The majority of palliative care teaching interventions reviewed improved knowledge of medical students. The studies did not show one type of teaching method to be better than others, and thus no ‘best way’ to provide teaching about palliative care was identified. High quality, comparative research is needed to further understand effectiveness of palliative care teaching on patient care/clinical practice/outcomes in the short-term and longer-term.

PROSPERO registration number CRD42018115257.

  • adult palliative care
  • education & training (see medical education & training)
  • general medicine (see internal medicine)
  • medical education & training

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial (CC BY-NC 4.0) license, which permits others to distribute, remix, adapt, build upon this work non-commercially, and license their derivative works on different terms, provided the original work is properly cited, appropriate credit is given, any changes made indicated, and the use is non-commercial. See:

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  • Twitter @Megan_EL_Brown, @gabs_finn

  • Contributors JB designed the study, performed the searches, led on data collection, data analysis and drafted the article. MB and AD contributed to data collection, data analysis and writing of the article. JG and GF contributed to study design, analysis and writing of the article. All authors were responsible for approval of the final report.

  • 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 for publication Not required.

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

  • Data availability statement All data relevant to the study are included in the article or uploaded as supplementary information.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.

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