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“Sharing the impact of the disease”: a workshop on suffering for medical students


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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