Objectives: To investigate the attitudes of early clinical students to the concept of suffering and the work of Eric Cassell.
Design: Qualitative case study using group interviews and questionnaires.
Setting: A United Kingdom medical school.
Participants: Two whole-year cohorts of third-year medical students (n = 557).
Interventions: Group interviews involving 57 randomly selected students, with exploration of emergent themes using free text and Lickert scale questionnaires.
Results: Students engaged readily with the concept of suffering and were able to identify a patient they had encountered who was suffering. Barriers to student involvement with suffering were identified. Students saw engaging with patient suffering as a clinical skill. Many students saw the ideas of Eric Cassell as plausible, although few were convinced that relief of suffering should be the central goal of medicine.
Conclusions: The work of Eric Cassell formed the basis of a teaching intervention with medical students who identified engaging with suffering as a clinical skill.
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The doctoral project leading to this paper was supported by a grant from the Scientific Foundation Board of the Royal College of General Practitioners (SFB/2005/02). Teaching was funded by the Department of General Practice, Cardiff University.
↵i Gordon J. Personal communication with author, 2004: Used in workshop by kind permission of Professor Gordon.
↵ii For details of the disaster, see http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/southeast/sites/aberfan/ (accessed 24 April 2008).
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