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“Sharing the impact of the disease”: a workshop on suffering for medical students
  1. W Lewis1,
  2. K Hawthorne2
  1. 1
    Carreg Wen Surgery, Blaenavon, Pontypool, UK
  2. 2
    Department of Primary Care and Public Health, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK
  1. Dr Wayne Lewis, Carreg Wen Surgery, Blaenavon, Pontypool NP4 9AF, UK; lewisw{at}


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.

  • undergraduate medical education
  • philosophy of medicine
  • qualitative case study
  • suffering

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  • None declared.

  • 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 (accessed 24 April 2008).