Educating Hematology and Oncology Fellows

When working with the families of children who have cancer, the communication of difficult news typically falls to the clinicians. “Difficult news” includes informing parents that their child has cancer, telling them about the extent of the cancer, communicating a poor prognosis, reporting on treatment failure or complications, reporting a medication or other medical error, explaining future challenges the child can expect to encounter, or discussing mortality, among other topics. This news needs to be communicated in a sensitive, straightforward manner.

The standard for training clinicians to deliver this kind of news involves having fellows watch a faculty member talk to a family or communicate bad news to actors or standardized patients with subsequent evaluation and feedback from physicians who observe the process. While practicing with standardized patients is an effective and important way to teach and evaluate skills, it is time consuming (for both the fellow and the faculty doing the review), expensive and typically can only be accomplished once or at most a few times each year.

Researchers at the Center for Childhood Cancer Research, including Leslie S. Kersun, MD, MSCE, MEd, are interested in developing additional ways to provide this and other innovative education for trainees, involving the creation of on-demand video simulations. These video clips can also be used as training tools for educators. They can be accessed any time a fellow needs to review a specific type of communication technique immediately prior to speaking with a family.

Dr. Kersun believes that augmenting live simulation medical education techniques with an assortment of video simulations can augment the communication skills of hematology/oncology fellows, serve as an additional teaching tool for faculty, and provide trainees and other staff with just-in-time resources that will contribute to their skillset.