Modification of medical student perceptions of the cancer experience

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Social, cultural, economic, psychological, and interpersonal dimensions of cancer and cancer patient management were addressed by a diverse group of faculty in an elective course conducted for a small number of students in their second, third, and fourth years of medical school. The covert, symbolic attitudes which students held toward this disease were inferred from their scores on the Beck Hopelessness Scale and the Brief Symptom Inventory (BSI) prior to and at the conclusion of the course. At the outset of the course the degree of hopelessness attributed to cancer patients by students was projected in excess of the amount cancer patients actually experience. Test results from an additional 50 medical students identified these bleak perceptions as typical of second-through fourth-year medical students. Significant attitudinal shifts, new insights into cancer patient management, and generally improved interactional skills resulted from the course.

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