An investigation into palliative care education in UK medical schools

Dr Steven Walker, Director, St Gilesmedical, London and Berlin, explains the background to his longer article selected as Editor’s Choice in the October edition of Palliative Medicine.

Dr Steven Walker

Dr Steven Walker

This article arose out of an interest in medical education and palliative care, a chance conversation and a fortuitous presentation at a scientific meeting.

I am Director of a medical education and communication company based in London and Berlin. Our team is involved in preparing medical and regulatory documents, designing educational outputs and delivering meetings for healthcare professionals and patients.

My interest in palliative care stems from a previous life in clinical oncology. It always seemed strange to me that a door appeared to exist between treatment delivered with the hope of cure and that administered for the relief of symptoms at the end of life. Many involved in the former were reluctant to accompany their patients on the next part of the journey, and when they did, were poorly prepared to do so. Surely there should be a continuum delivered by a connected team of specialists? One reason for this is likely to be our hospital-based system of specialities. A chance discussion with a final year medical student at one of our largest universities suggested that another factor might be limited training in palliative and end-of-life care across the UK.

As part of my Master’s in Medical Education degree course at the University of Dundee, I decided to look at palliative care education for my dissertation subject. I developed a questionnaire intended for palliative care specialists and presented my plans to the Association for Palliative Medicine Special Interest Forum for Undergraduate Medical Education. The delegates suggested that I make contact with Professor Bee Wee and colleagues who were planning to undertake a survey of palliative care training across UK medical schools. This built on a previous survey conducted in 2000/2001.1 Subsequently, I had the privilege of working with this eminent group of hospital specialists in developing a new survey tool and analysing a mass of data from palliative care organisers at all 30 UK medical schools. This resulted in the current paper in Palliative Medicine and another article, soon to be published, in the same journal.2,3 The authors are preparing a third and final manuscript detailing the personal views of course organisers that contain a number of insightful comments.

The message from these data can be summed up as showing improvement in undergraduate palliative care education since the previous survey. While some units are delivering excellent training, there is variation in funding, course evolution and organisation, teaching time, depth of coverage, the degree of meaningful patient contact and assessment of learning across institutions. These factors may have implications for the delivery of effective palliative care education for medical students.


  1. Field D & Wee B. Preparation for palliative care: teaching about death, dying and bereavement in UK medical schools 2000-2001. Med Educ. 2002; 36 (6): 561-567.
  2. Walker SJ, Gibbins J, Barclay S, et al. Progress and divergence in palliative care education for medical students: a comparative survey of UK course structure, content, delivery, contact with patients and assessment of learning. Palliat Med. October 2016; 30 (9): 834-842. First published 4 February 2016 doi: 10.1177/0269216315627125
  3. Walker SJ, Gibbins J, Paes P, et al. Palliative care education for medical students: Differences in course evolution, organisation, evaluation and funding: A survey of all UK medical schools. Palliat Med. Accepted 27 August 2016.


9-coverRead the full article in Palliative Medicine
This blog post relates to the longer article, ‘Progress and divergence in palliative care education for medical students: a comparative survey of UK course structure, content, delivery, contact with patients and assessment of learning’, published in Palliative Medicine 2016, Vol. 30(9) 834-842. First published on 4 February 2016 doi: 10.1177/0269216315627125.

Download your free copy of this month’s Editor’s Choice article from the EAPC website.

How to download previously published ‘Editor’s choice’ articles
EAPC members and registered users of the EAPC website can download all ‘Editor’s choice’ papers free of charge from the EAPC website but you will need to register or login first. Please follow the instructions in the top right-hand corner of the EAPC home page and scroll down to the article. Click here to view other EAPC-originated papers.

Read more Editor’s Choice posts on the EAPC Blog.

This entry was posted in EAPC-LINKED JOURNALS, EDUCATION & TRAINING, Palliative Medicine: Editor's Choice, RESEARCH and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

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