Introduction: Published curricula to teach communication skills for postgraduate fellows in oncology are few in number despite the fact that oncologists conduct many difficult discussions with their patients and their families. Such discussions may include disclosing initial diagnosis or relapse of a patient's cancer or relaying a poor prognosis or change to palliative care. Methods: An eight-module course on communication in oncology practice was delivered over 2 months for palliative and oncology fellows and radiation oncology residents. Learners were given a precourse survey in which they were asked to rate their proficiency in various communication tasks. Each learner then participated in a videotaped precourse objective structured clinical exam (OSCE) on breaking bad news with standardized patients (SPs). The course took place over 8 weeks with weekly didactics and role-play. At the end of the course, a second OSCE took place. After the course was completed, the fellows again filled out a proficiency survey. Results: Twenty-two learners participated over 2 years of this course. Participants reported a significant increase in perceived competence in all areas on the postcourse survey. SP feedback on OSCEs pre- and postcourse indicated improvement in skills for learners. Pre- and postcourse OSCE video assessment revealed a significant improvement in global communication skills. Discussion: Initial data show that this course successfully improved communication skills and increased fellows' comfort level across several domains of communication. Future directions include validating our assessment tool, expanding the topic base, and investigating the impact on practice after course completion.
School of Medicine
Family Medicine; Occupational Medicine, Epidemiology and Prevention; General Pediatrics; Science Education