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J Cancer Educ. 2011 Sep;26(3):444-50. doi: 10.1007/s13187-011-0199-x.

Professional development and the informal curriculum in end-of-life care.

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School of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA 94117, USA.


Although professionalism has emerged as a key competency for today's physicians, there exists little insight into how best to teach medical students the relevant skills or instill in them the commitment required to practice according to the highest professional standards. Ten UCSF medical students were interviewed at three time points (second, third, and fourth years of school). Interviews focused on students' learning and development regarding end-of-life care (EOLC). Students described varying steps in their professional development from their second to fourth years of school, including feeling confused about the definition of professionalism and integrating their personal and professional identities. In addition to professional development, four other themes contributed to the development of medical student understanding of how to provide EOLC as a professional: (1) curricular discordance, (2) role models, (3) the tightrope between trained versus human reactions, and (4) ethical dilemmas. These five themes represent dilemmas that students often learned how to respond to over the course of school. Professional development in EOLC required the acquisition of skills necessary to balance the tension between and navigate conflicting messages present in medical student training.

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