Are We Training Our Fellows Adequately in Delivering Bad News to Patients? A Survey of Hematology/Oncology Program Directors.


Abstract:  Medical oncologists often must deliver bad news. The authors were interested in the extent of formal training in delivering bad news in hematology/oncology fellowships in the United States. Methods: An e-mail survey was sent to all hematology/oncology fellowship program directors in the United States. Surveys were e-mailed to 124 program directors and responses were received either via e-mail or regular mail. Program directors were asked the adequacy, the perceived necessity, the quality of this training, and the institutional support provided. It was also intended to elicit responses about the degree of formal training fellows receive in delivering bad news. chi(2) Statistics were used to perform comparisons between items; p values of less than 0.05 were considered statistically significant. Results: Sixty-five surveys were completed and returned (52% response rate). The majority of programs, 82%, are in urban areas and 97% of the primary teaching hospitals are considered tertiary care centers and 46% of programs carry a National Cancer Institute (NCI) designation. Median number of fellows in a training program is 6 with the range being 3 to 46. Eighty-nine percent of program directors reported that they themselves received little to no formal training in delivering bad news, but they report 37% of current fellows receive little to no formal training with 40% receiving some training and additional 23% receiving moderate to extensive training (p < 0.001). Sixty-three percent of program directors felt that extensive, formal training is important for skill development in delivering bad news, while an additional 34% felt that some training is useful. Only 3% of respondents did not believe any training is needed. Seventy-six percent of program directors want improvements in how their fellows are trained, but 43% reported little to no institutional support for training (p < 0.001). Conclusions: Of the program directors who responded to our survey, a large majority did not have formal training in delivering bad news. Despite this lack of training, most program directors felt that training was useful for skill development in delivering bad news. The majority of today’s fellows do receive training in delivering bad news. However, there was still a significant percentage of program directors who reported little or no formal training for fellows. Most program directors would like to see improvements in how fellows are trained. Specific institutional support for training fellows in delivering bad news remains lacking.


Journal of Palliative Medicine


2009 Aug 21.

Resource Type:

Journal Article


Hebert HD, Butera JN, Castillo J, Mega AE.