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J Palliat Med. 2014 Jun;17(6):696-700. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2013.0533. Epub 2014 Apr 22.

Medical students as hospice volunteers: reflections on an early experiential training program in end-of-life care education.

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  • 11 Pritzker School of Medicine, The University of Chicago , Chicago, Illinois.



Despite an increase in the content of palliative medicine curricula in medical schools, students are rarely exposed to end-of-life (EOL) care through real-patient experiences during their preclinical education.


To evaluate the utility and impact of exposure to EOL care for first year medical students (MS-1s) through a hospice volunteer experience.


Patients and Families First (PFF), a hospice volunteer training program in EOL care, was piloted on three cohorts of MS-1s as an elective. Fifty-five students received 3 hours of volunteer training, and were then required to conduct at least two consecutive hospice visits on assigned patients to obtain course credit. Students' reflective essays on their experiences were analyzed using qualitative methodology and salient themes were extracted by two investigators independently and then collaboratively.


The following five themes were identified from students' reflective essays: perceptions regarding hospice patients; reactions regarding self; normalcy of EOL care at home; impact of witnessing death and dying; and suggestions for improving EOL care education for medical students.


Hospice volunteering during preclinical years may provide valuable experiential training for MS-1s in caring for seriously ill patients and their families by fostering personal reflection and empathic skills, thereby providing a foundation for future patient encounters during clinical training.

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