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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Northwestern: New Simulation-based Training Helps Doctors Break Bad News More Effectively

Despite known protocols and recommendations on how to break bad news to patients, many physicians report insufficient training about how to conduct these challenging conversations. Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has found a better way, according to a newly published study.

A new class offered to Feinberg medical students uses an approach called “simulation-based mastery learning” to train physicians to have difficult conversations with patients in a clear and compassionate way.

Students practice with faculty and trained actors until they can demonstrate mastery of the key skills, including how to communicate news without jargon, how to listen to patients’ concerns, how to react to a wide variety of emotional responses and how to clearly talk through treatment options.

The study found every medical student who received the interactive training gained the skills necessary to have these hard conversations. Additionally, 100 percent of students reported they would recommend the course to a colleague.

This is the first study to show it is possible to embed rigorous simulation-based mastery learning of communication skills into the clinical training of medical students. The paper was published Feb. 18 in the journal Academic Medicine.

“We know patients and families remember these conversations forever,” said first author Dr. Julia Vermylen, assistant professor of medicine and medical education at Feinberg and a member of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine. “It’s better to practice these skills in a simulated environment where no one is harmed so that when you do it in real life, people will understand the news, their next steps and know they have a partner in this.”

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