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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Palliative care for the elderly - developing a curriculum for nursing and medical students

Johannes M Just1, Christian Schulz12*, Maren Bongartz1 and Martin W Schnell1

Author Affiliations

1 Medical Faculty Witten/Herdecke University, Institute for Ethics and Communication in Health Care, Witten, Germany

2 Medical Faculty Dusseldorf University, Interdisciplinary Centre for Palliative Care, Dusseldorf, Germany

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BMC Geriatrics 2010, 10:66  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-10-66

Published: 20 September 2010



Delivering palliative care to elderly, dying patients is a present and future challenge. In Germany, this has been underlined by a 2009 legislation implementing palliative care as compulsory in the medical curriculum. While the number of elderly patients is increasing in many western countries multimorbidity, dementia and frailty complicate care. Teaching palliative care of the elderly to an interprofessional group of medical and nursing students can help to provide better care as acknowledged by the ministry of health and its expert panels.

In this study we researched and created an interdisciplinary curriculum focussing on the palliative care needs of the elderly which will be presented in this paper.


In order to identify relevant learning goals and objectives for the curriculum, we proceeded in four subsequent stages.

We searched international literature for existing undergraduate palliative care curricula focussing on the palliative care situation of elderly patients; we searched international literature for palliative care needs of the elderly. The searches were sensitive and limited in nature. Mesh terms were used where applicable. We then presented the results to a group of geriatrics and palliative care experts for critical appraisal. Finally, the findings were transformed into a curriculum, focussing on learning goals, using the literature found.


The literature searches and expert feedback produced a primary body of results. The following deduction domains emerged: Geriatrics, Palliative Care, Communication & Patient Autonomy and Organisation & Social Networks. Based on these domains we developed our curriculum.


The curriculum was successfully implemented following the Kern approach for medical curricula. The process is documented in this paper. The information given may support curriculum developers in their search for learning goals and objectives.