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Teach Learn Med. 2008 Jan-Mar;20(1):69-72. doi: 10.1080/10401330701798329.

What it's really like: the complex role of medical students in end-of-life care.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Cambridge Hospital, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.



Medical student end-of-life care training provides insight into the hidden curriculum and physician professional development.


Second-year medical students at a university medical center listen to a panel discussion of 4th-year students and residents describing their end-of-life care experiences during clerkships. This discussion is intended to provide "anticipatory guidance" to 2nd-year students about challenging situations they might encounter on the wards. The purpose of this study was to analyze the content of the panel discussions by 4th-year students and residents to better understand their views of the end-of-life care curriculum.


We performed a qualitative content analysis of transcripts from 2 years of panel discussions. Participants' comments focused primarily on the complexity of the role of medical students in end-of-life care. Three major themes emerged in the sessions: defining professional identity, conflicting expectations, and limited medical experience.


The role of medical students in end-of-life care can be complex, confusing, and contradictory. Emotional support and elucidating the hidden curriculum may assist students with the process of physician enculturation and end-of-life care education.

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