Medical student perceptions of medical school education about suffering: A multicenter pilot study

Thomas R. Egnew, Peter R. Lewis, Douglas C. Schaad, Sabesan Karuppiah, Suzanne Mitchell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Little is known about what students perceive they are taught about suffering in medical school. We sought to explore medical student perceptions of their medical school education about suffering. METHODS: We used an online survey of medical students enrolled in four US medical schools with chi-square analysis of responses by gender and pre-clinical/clinical status. RESULTS: A total of 1,043 students (38%) responded and indicated that teaching about suffering is occurring in the schools surveyed. Respondents most strongly endorsed statements that their medical school education explicitly teaches that the relief of suffering is an inherent function of being a physician (46.5%) and that most of what they learned about dealing with suffering patients is taught by modeling (46.6%). They reported that their education explicitly teaches about suffering (32.8%), provides a good understanding of suffering (31.7%), and teaches how to interact with suffering patients (31.7%). Students gave the least support to statements that their education prepares them to personally deal with their reactions to the suffering of patients (25.1%) and teaches how to diagnose suffering (15.3%). Responses varied markedly according to gender and clinical status at two of the four schools surveyed. CONCLUSIONS: Teaching about suffering is occurring in the schools surveyed and can be variably experienced according to gender and clinical status. Implied curricular gaps include teaching about how to diagnose suffering and how to personally deal with the feelings that arise when caring for suffering patients. Further research on how students are learning about suffering is warranted to guide curriculum development and implementation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)39-44
Number of pages6
JournalFamily medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Family Practice


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