Palliative Care Training during Fellowship: A National Survey of U.S. Hematology and Oncology Fellows

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Background: Despite requirements for palliative care training during fellowship, there is a paucity of recent data regarding the attitudes, knowledge, and skills of hematology/ oncology fellows in palliative care. Objective: Our aim was to assess fellows’ attitudes toward and quality of training in palliative care during fellowship and perceived preparedness to care for patients at the end of life (EOL). Methods: In May 2013 a cross-sectional survey of hematology/oncology fellows was conducted. Results: Fellows from 93 of 138 fellowship programs responded (67.4%). Of the 347 fellows e-mailed, 176 participated. Nearly all fellows (99%) indicated that physicians have a responsibility to help patients at EOL. Fellows felt their overall training in fellowship was superior to training in EOL care (4.24 – 0.78 versus 3.53 – 0.99 on a 5-5 scale where 1 = poor and 5 = excellent, p < 0.0001). Fellows who had a rotation in palliative care during fellowship (44.9%) reported better teaching on managing a patient at EOL than those who did not (3.91 – 1.0 versus 3.21 – 0.87, p < 0.0001). Fellows reporting better teaching in EOL care felt better prepared to care for patients at EOL (r = 0.52, p < 0.0001). More than 25% reported not being explicitly taught how to assess prognosis, when to refer a patient to hospice, or how to conduct a family meeting to discuss treatment options. Conclusion: Many recent oncology fellows are still inadequately prepared to provide palliative care to their patients. There is significant room for improvement with regards to the quality of palliative care training in U.S. hematology/oncology fellowship programs.