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J Palliat Med. 2008 Nov;11(9):1227-33. doi: 10.1089/jpm.2008.0058.

Exposure to death is associated with positive attitudes and higher knowledge about end-of-life care in graduating medical students.

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Division of Hospital Medicine and Palliative Care Program, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California P60 MD000239, USA.



To examine the relationship between exposure to death and attitudes and knowledge about end-of-life care in graduating medical students.


Survey of students graduating from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine between 2001 and 2006. Students reported their personal experience with death and their exposure to death and dying patients during medical school. They rated their agreement, on a 4-point Likert scale, with 8 attitude items that were previously used in a national survey. Knowledge about end-of-life care was assessed with a 15-item test about pain and symptom management, ethics, treatment appropriateness, and hospice.


Three hundred and eighty students completed the survey; the response rate was 47%. Seventy-six percent of students reported personal experience with death, and 73% reported caring for dying patients or witnessing a patient's death during their third-year clerkships. Students had positive attitudes about physicians' responsibility and ability to help dying patients and their families, but reported negative emotional reactions to end-of-life care. Students who reported personal or professional experience with death had more positive attitudes and higher knowledge scores than those who did not, p = 0.05.


Educational initiatives should maximize the time medical students spend caring for dying patients. Teaching students end-of-life care during the course of their clinical clerkships is an effective way to improve attitudes about end-of-life care. Schools should focus on developing emotionally supportive settings in which to teach students about death and dying.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

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