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J Palliat Care. 2003 Winter;19(4):246-52.

How do physicians learn to provide palliative care?

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  • 1Center for Excellence in Chronic Illness Care, Yale University School of Nursing, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.


Medical interns, residents, and fellows are heavily involved in caring for dying patients and interacting with their families. Due to a lack of formal medical education in the area, these house staff often have a limited knowledge of palliative care. The purpose of this study was to determine how, given inadequate formal education, house staff learn to provide palliative care. Specifically, this study sought to explore the extent to which physicians learn to provide palliative care through formal medical education, from physicians and other hospital staff, and by on-the-job learning. Twenty physicians were interviewed about their medical education and other learning experiences in palliative care. ATLAS/ti software was used for data coding and analysis. Analysis of transcripts indicated that house staff learn little to nothing through formal education, to varying degrees from attending physicians and hospital staff, and mostly on the job and by making mistakes.

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