Clin Teach. 2022 May 29. doi: 10.1111/tct.13508. Online ahead of print.
BACKGROUND: Navigating serious illness conversations is a critical competency for clinical trainees in any discipline, yet many feel underprepared to engage in such conversations. This study explored the challenges and emotions experienced by residents (junior doctors) when approaching serious illness conversations and how their perceptions might inform the development of effective communication skills curricula.
METHODS: Using qualitative methodology, we explored the prior experience of Internal Medicine residents who attended communication skills workshops at Brigham and Women's Hospital between January and May 2020. Using an open-ended questionnaire, we solicited participants' reflections on conducting serious illness conversations. Narratives were de-identified and analysed for key themes. The Mass General Brigham Institutional Review Board approved the study.
FINDINGS: Fifty-one out of 70 eligible residents (72.8%) completed the questionnaire. Qualitative analysis identified five key themes: (a) finding the time to do it right, (b) fear of using the wrong words, (c) managing the patient's response and emotion, (d) not knowing how much they can say and (e) finding meaning and fulfilment. Residents also proposed several practical strategies to enhance their communication training.
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION: Though serious illness conversations were reported as stressful, study participants emphasised that the experiences enabled them to forge meaningful therapeutic relationships and led to a sense of fulfilment. The strategies recommended by our residents offer valuable insights to improve communication training, including through increased simulated and real-time skills practice. Cocreation of curricula by trainees and faculty could potentially address trainees' challenges, promote essential skills, and foster professional identity formation.