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J Clin Oncol. 1998 May;16(5):1961-8.

Teaching senior oncologists communication skills: results from phase I of a comprehensive longitudinal program in the United Kingdom.

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Department of Oncology, University College London Medical School, United Kingdom.



To determine the communication difficulties experienced by clinicians in cancer medicine and to develop, implement, and evaluate communication skills training courses.


One hundred seventy-eight senior clinicians attended 1 1/2- or 3-day residential courses designed to enhance skills development, knowledge acquisition, and personal awareness. Course content included structured feedback, video review of interviews, interactive group demonstrations, and discussion in groups of four led by trained facilitators. The main outcomes were self-rated confidence in key aspects of communication, attitudinal shift toward more patient-centered interviewing, perceived changes in personal practice, and initiation of teaching programs for junior staff.


Less than 35% of the participants had received any previous communications training. Time, experience, and seniority had not improved skills; before the course, oncologists expressed difficulty with 998 different communication issues. Primary problems concerned giving complex information, obtaining informed consent, and handling ethnic and cultural differences. Confidence ratings for key communication areas were significantly improved postcourse (P < .01). Three months postcourse, 95% of the physicians reported significant changes in their practice of medicine. Seventy-five percent had started new teaching initiatives in communication for junior clinicians. Clinicians showed positive shifts in attitude toward patients' psychosocial needs (P=.0002) and were more patient centered (P=.03). The courses were highly rated and 97% would "definitely" recommend them to colleagues.


Oncologists are hampered by inadequate communication skills training and will give up time to correct this. Subjective improvements reported immediately postcourse were maintained at 3 months. Resources for educational initiatives are needed to help both patients and their physicians.

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