Medical students taught palliative care skills throughout curriculum

We agree with Ms Ada Chan Siew Foen ("Give medical students more exposure to palliative care"; Aug 5) that palliative care is an important area of medical care, and assure her that our medical students are taught palliative care skills as part of their curriculum.

At the National University of Singapore (NUS) Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, palliative care forms an important part of the overall training of our undergraduate medical students. NUS students are exposed to palliative care and related topics, such as ethics and communication, throughout the programme.

Foundational clinical skills such as good communication, empathy, compassion and professionalism are taught from Year One.

In addition, palliative care-related topics such as truth-telling, withholding and withdrawing treatment, and coping with ageing and declining mental capacity are taught throughout our five-year medical ethics undergraduate module.

To help strengthen their foundational knowledge on palliative care, NUS students also go through a formal palliative medicine training programme in Year Three.

Under this programme, students are posted to hospitals and hospices to learn how to care for terminally ill patients in different care settings.

At the Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU), students are taught about community-based health services, including palliative care services, in Years One and Two. In Year Four, they are paired with experienced palliative care clinicians in acute hospitals, in-patient hospices, home hospice care settings, and nursing homes. This trains and exposes the medical students to the various aspects and fields of the practice of palliative medicine.

At the Duke-NUS Medical School, palliative medicine is one of the three pillars of the curriculum: preventing illness and maintaining wellness, curing illness and restoring health, and relieving suffering when a cure is no longer possible.

We agree that inculcating palliative care in the mindset of developing physicians is essential, and Duke-NUS strives to instil in its students the belief that while there is always more that can be done, there will be many situations where it would be better to focus the goals of care on palliation rather than curing.

In addition to its formal curriculum, students at Duke-NUS learn in an environment that pushes the boundaries of knowledge regarding palliative care through research conducted in two of our academic centres: the Lien Centre for Palliative Care and the Centre for Ageing Research and Education.

All of us at our respective medical schools share Ms Chan's views that medical treatment alone may not ease the suffering and improve the quality of life of terminally ill patients. We will continue to strengthen our training in palliative care, and work with the medical community to raise awareness and standards of palliative care as part of end-of-life planning and care.

Hooi Shing Chuan (Professor)

Vice-Dean (Education)

Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine

National University of Singapore

Pang Weng Sun (Associate Professor)

Vice-Dean (Clinical Affairs)

Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine

Nanyang Technological University

Scott Compton (Associate Professor)

Associate Dean

Medical Education Research & Evaluation

Duke-NUS Medical School

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Medical students taught palliative care skills throughout curriculum'. Print Edition | Subscribe