Studies assessing palliative care education in U.S. medical schools reveal that little attention is paid to this topic. Although core competencies have been defined, few schools have implemented effective means to incorporate formal palliative care education into undergraduate curricula. To promote reform, each school needs to conduct a thorough assessment to identify palliative care content throughout the four-year curriculum. The authors developed an innovative assessment instrument to facilitate curricular mapping of palliative care education. The Palliative Education Assessment Tool (PEAT) comprises seven palliative care domains: palliative medicine, pain, neuropsychologic symptoms, other symptoms, ethics and the law, patient/family/nonclinical caregiver perspectives on end-of-life care, and clinical communication skills. Each domain details specific curricular objectives of knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Designed as a flexible self-assessment tool, PEAT helps determine the existence of palliative care education, which usually is found in various formats throughout a medical school's curriculum and thus sometimes 'hidden.' PEAT enables educators to describe a specific, multidimensional aspect of the curriculum and use the information for strategic planning, educational reform, and evaluation. The curricular reform implications of such an instrument are broader than palliative care assessment. A modified version of PEAT can be used to assess systematically other topics that are taught in various formats in the curriculum and to develop collaborative approaches to fulfilling the educational objectives of those topics.
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