Systematic Review

Intensive Care Medicine

, Volume 33, Issue 5, pp 901-907

First online:

Undergraduate training in the care of the acutely ill patient: a literature review

  • Christopher M. SmithAffiliated withDivision of Medical Sciences, University of Birmingham
  • , Gavin D. PerkinsAffiliated withThe Medical School, University of Warwick Email author 
  • , Ian BullockAffiliated withRoyal College of Nursing Institute, Radcliffe Infirmary
  • , Julian F. BionAffiliated withDivision of Medical Sciences, University of Birmingham

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To characterise the problem of teaching acute care skills to undergraduates and to look for potential solutions.


Systematic literature review including Medline, EMBASE, CINAHL. Eligible studies described education and training issues focusing on caring for acutely ill patients. Articles were excluded if they did not address either educational or clinical aspects of acute care and resuscitation.

Measurement and results

We identified and reviewed 374 articles focusing on training or clinical aspects of caring for the acutely ill patient. Undergraduates and junior physicians lack knowledge, confidence and competence in all aspects of acute care, including the basic task of recognition and management of the acutely ill patient. There is wide variability both between and within countries regarding the amount of teaching in critical care offered to undergraduate medical students. Many centres are starting to use an integrated approach to acute care teaching, with early exposure to basic life support and clinical skills, coupled with later exposure to more complex acute care topics. Clinical attachments remain a popular method for training in acute care. Acute care courses are increasingly being used to standardise delivery of practical skills and patient management training.


The training of healthcare staff in the care of acutely ill patients is suboptimal, adding to patient risk. Improvements in training should start at undergraduate level for maximal effect, should be integrated with postgraduate education, and are likely to enhance current efforts to improve patient safety in acute care.


Critical care Cardiopulmonary resuscitation Undergraduate medical education Training