BACKGROUND: Medical students have traditionally received little education in palliative care. However, in 1999, as part of a revised medical curriculum, Year 4 undergraduates at Liverpool University participated in a 2-week programme of education in palliative care. To assess the effect of the education programme, 2 assessment scales were identified: the Self-efficacy in Palliative Care Scale (SEPC) (assessing efficacy in communication, patient management and multiprofessional teamworking) and the Thanatophobia Scale (assessing attitudes towards palliative care). The aim of this study was to examine the psychometric properties of these scales. METHODS: The scales were examined by 5 palliative care doctors for content validity and appropriate wording. Following this, the SEPC and Thanatophobia Scales were completed by the undergraduates (n = 139) prior to and after completion of the education programme. RESULTS: Both scales were analysed independently on pre- and post-test scores. Cronbach's alphas of 0.84-0.85 and 0.92-0.95 were recorded, respectively, indicating high reliability. Varimax rotated principal components analysis of the SEPC Scale suggested 3 distinct factors, as theoretically expected, with high factor loadings of 0.45-0.89 at pre- and post-test. Principal components analysis of the Thanatophobia Scale suggested only 1 factor underlies the scale, as theoretically expected. All 7 items had high factor loadings of 0.60-0.81 at pre- and post-test. CONCLUSIONS: The results suggest that the SEPC and Thanatophobia Scales are valid and reliable assessment scales that may be of use when evaluating the impact of an education programme.
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