We report the analysis of a cancer management survey mailed to a representative group of health professionals in 1994. The goals of the study were to gather information on cancer pain treatment practices, and to obtain health professional views on obstacles to ideal pain management. The survey, designed by a working party of pharmacists, nurses and physicians, was distributed to 14,628 physicians. A total of 2,686 physicians responded to the survey, including 39% of medical or radiation oncologists, and 18.19% of physicians who listed their primary interest as Family Medicine. Reflecting the modest emphasis placed on palliative care and cancer pain management in the current Canadian milieu, 67% of physicians rated their past teaching experience as only "fair" or "poor." Lack of exposure to pain education was reflected in the response to a series of hypothetical case scenarios exploring physician choices in managing severe cancer pain. For example, in the initial management of a cancer patient with severe pain, 50% of physicians would not use a strong opioid in the absence of other contraindications to opioid use. A wide variety of analgesics and non-pharmacologic techniques is available to Canadian physicians to assist patients with pain. Few physicians identified the unavailability of analgesics or analgesic techniques as limiting factors in pain management. We conclude that greater emphasis should be placed on pain education in our training programmes. We suggest that further surveys of this type, sponsored by our provincial colleges and medical organizations, can provide feedback which will enhance the adherence by Canadian physicians to published guidelines for pain management.
In 1988 the deans of 12 (out of 16) Canadian medical schools appointed representatives to a Canadian Palliative Care Curriculum Committee. The Committee has subsequently published the Canadian Palliative Care Curriculum which outlines specific goals and objectives for palliative care instruction in undergraduate medical teaching. The Curriculum covers 22 different topics, including 13 symptoms and 9 psychosocial issues. The Canadian Curriculum Committee continues to meet and is now considering other national educational initiatives in palliative care.
Graduating medical students from the class of 1999 from McGill University and the University of Alberta completed a self-administered, anonymous, pilot survey to determine students' perspectives on how their educational experience in common palliative care topics contrasted with their educational experience in the diagnosis and management of hypertension, non palliative aspects of breast cancer, and patients dying of acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS).
A Likert scale ranging from "excellent," scored 1, "very poor," scored 5, was used. Students also estimated the number of hours they spent, during their training, in operating rooms, on home visits to terminally ill patients, and in interprofessional teaching.
Sixty of 114 (53%) students from McGill University, and 53 of 110 (48%) students from the University of Alberta responded to the survey. The mean ratings of education experience in the various topics for both universities combined were as follows: hypertension, 2.03; breast cancer, 2.33; cancer pain, 3.42; communicating with dying patients, 3.32; and caring for patients with AIDS, 4.15. The average number of hours spent in the operating room, on home visits to terminally patients, and in interprofessional teaching for both universities combined were 155 hours, 4.2 hours, and 16 hours, respectively. Of the responding students from both universities 83% favored increased palliative care teaching.
Despite the disproportionate number of hours spent in operating rooms compared to palliative care community exposure, only two students, one from each university, favored shortening surgical rotations to allow for increased time for palliative care education. Recommendations, including increasing palliative care education during clinical clerkships, are provided to improve medical students' perceptions of their educational experiences in palliative care education.
Unlike in other nations, in Canada palliative care has its origins in university hospitals. It has subsequently developed in a few Canadian schools as an academic discipline closely linked with oncology programs. Although this model is successful, other faculties of medicine and cancer centres have been slow to emulate it. Today, the situation is rapidly changing, and both palliative care and oncology professionals are re-examining the manifest need for collaborative efforts in patient care, research and education. Palliative care must be regarded as an essential component of cancer care, its principles must be applied throughout the course of the illness and, as in other phases of cancer control, palliative care should be regarded as an exercise in prevention--prevention of suffering. This article discusses practical applications that flow from acceptance of these concepts.
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