The need for end-of-life care training in nephrology: National survey results of nephrology fellows

Jean L. Holley, Sharon S. Carmody, Alvin H. Moss, Amy M. Sullivan, Lewis M. Cohen, Susan D. Block, Robert M. Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Because of the high mortality rate of end-stage renal disease, nephrologists care for many dying patients. However, the education of nephrology fellows in palliative care has not been assessed. We surveyed second-year nephrology fellows to assess the quantity and quality of teaching they received in palliative medicine and also asked about their preparedness to manage patients at the end of life. A 63% survey response rate yielded 173 surveys for evaluation. Nearly all fellows (99%) agreed that physicians have a responsibility to help patients at the end of life; half thought it was very important to learn how to care for dying patients. On a 10-point scale in which 0 is no teaching and 10 is a lot of teaching, fellows reported significantly less teaching in end-of-life care (mean score, 3.8 ± 2.6) than in managing a patient with distal renal tubular acidosis (mean score, 6.3 ± 2.5) or on hemodialysis therapy (mean score, 8.9 ± 1.5; all P < 0.0001). Specific palliative care content areas were taught infrequently; only 22% of fellows were taught how to tell a patient he or she is dying. Fellows who had contact with a palliative care specialist reported more education on end-of-life issues and believed they were better prepared to provide such care. Fellows' palliative care experiences during fellowship frequently occurred without attending nephrologist supervision; 32% of fellows had conducted 2 or fewer family meetings, and 26% of all family meetings occurred without an attending nephrologist. Fellows believed they were best prepared to manage a patient on hemodialysis therapy (mean score, 8.9 ± 1) and least prepared to manage a patient at the end of life (mean score, 6.1 ± 2; P < 0.0001). Our results show that most nephrology fellows believe they should learn how to care for dying patients, but most fellowship programs do not offer this training. Our study therefore suggests that training in palliative care be incorporated into fellowship program curricula.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)813-820
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Kidney Diseases
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • End-of-life care
  • End-stage renal disease (ESRD)
  • Long-term dialysis
  • Medical education
  • Medical training

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology


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