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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Structured Communication: Teaching Delivery of Difficult News with Simulated Resuscitations in an Emergency Medicine Clerkship


Introduction: The objective is to describe the implementation and outcomes of a structured communication module used to supplement case-based simulated resuscitation training in an emergency medicine (EM) clerkship.

Methods: We supplemented two case-based simulated resuscitation scenarios (cardiac arrest and blunt trauma) with role-play in order to teach medical students how to deliver news of death and poor prognosis to family of the critically ill or injured simulated patient. Quantitative outcomes were assessed with pre and post-clerkship surveys. Secondarily, students completed a written self-reflection (things that went well and why; things that did not go well and why) to further explore learner experiences with communication around resuscitation. Qualitative analysis identified themes from written self-reflections.

Results: A total of 120 medical students completed the pre and post-clerkship surveys. Majority of respondents reported that they had witnessed or role-played the delivery of difficult news, but only few had real-life experience of delivering news of death (20/120, 17%) and poor prognosis (34/120, 29%). This communication module led to statistically significant increased scores for comfort, confidence, and knowledge with communicating difficult news of death and poor prognosis. Pre-post scores increased for those agreeing with statements (somewhat/very much) for delivery of news of poor prognosis: comfort 69% to 81%, confidence 66% to 81% and knowledge 76% to 90% as well as for statements regarding delivery of news of death: comfort 52% to 68%, confidence 57% to 76% and knowledge 76% to 90%. Respondents report that patient resuscitations (simulated and/or real) generated a variety of strong emotional responses such as anxiety, stress, grief and feelings of loss and failure.

Conclusion: A structured communication module supplements simulated resuscitation training in an EM clerkship and leads to a self-reported increase in knowledge, comfort, and competence in communicating difficult news of death and poor prognosis to family. Educators may need to seek ways to address the strong emotions generated in learners with real and simulated patient resuscitations. [West J Emerg Med. 2015;16(2):344–352.]


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