Primary Palliative Care Education for Trainees in U.S. Medical Residencies and Fellowships: A Scoping Review

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Background: The medical profession increasingly recognizes the growing need to educate nonpalliative physicians in palliative care. Objective: This study aims to provide a scoping review of the primary palliative care (PPC) education currently available to graduate medical trainees in primary and specialty tracks. Design: Studies of PPC interventions in U.S. residency or fellowship programs of all subspecialties published in English and listed on MEDLINE, CINAHL, and EMBASE through January 2020 were included. To meet admission criteria, studies had to describe the content, delivery methods, and evaluation instruments of a PPC educational intervention. Results: Of 233 eligible full texts, 85 studies were included for assessment, of which 66 were novel PPC educational interventions and 19 were standard education. Total number of publications evaluating PPC education increased from 8 (2000-2004) to 36 (2015-2019), across 11 residency and 10 fellowship specialties. Residency specialties representing the majority of publications were emergency medicine, general surgery, internal medicine, and pediatric/medicine-pediatrics. PPC content domains most taught in residencies were communication and symptom management; the primary delivery method was didactics, and the outcome assessed was attitudes. Fellowship specialties representing the majority of publications were pediatric subspecialties, nephrology, and oncology. The PPC content domain most taught in fellowships was communication; the primary delivery method was didactics and the outcome evaluated was attitudes. Conclusions: While PPC education has increased, it remains varied in content, delivery method, and intervention evaluations. Future studies should include more widespread evaluation of behavioral outcomes, longitudinal persistence of use, and clinical impact.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)354-375
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of palliative medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2021


  • graduate medical education
  • primary palliative care
  • scoping review

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nursing(all)
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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