Original Article

Adapting Existing Resources for Serious Illness Communication Skills Training for Internal Medicine Residents

Authors: Dheepa R. Sekar, MD, Caitlin H. Siropaides, DO, Lauren N. Smith, MD, Oanh Kieu Nguyen, MD, MAS


Objectives: Goals of care discussions are a vital component of patient care, but Internal Medicine residents receive limited training in these skills. Existing curricula often require simulated patients or faculty development, limiting implementation in many residency programs. Thus, we developed and implemented a curriculum leveraging existing educational resources with the goal of improving resident attitudes and confidence in conducting goals of care discussions in training settings.

Methods: We developed cases and a detailed faculty guide for small-group discussion with three exercises to standardize the learner experience and minimize the need for faculty development. Exercises introduced established communication skill frameworks including SPIKES (setting, perception, invitation, knowledge, empathy, summary) and REMAP (reframe, emotion, map, align, propose a plan) for how to break bad news, respond to strong emotions, and conduct a goals of care discussion. Participants were 163 Internal Medicine postgraduate year 1, -2, and -3 residents at a large urban academic institution, where residency-wide curriculum is delivered in weekly half-day didactic sessions during the course of 5 weeks. Primary outcomes were resident self-reported confidence with goals of care communication skills.

Results: A total of 109 (response rate 67%) of residents reported improvement in overall confidence in goals of care discussion skills (3.6 ± 0.9 vs 4.1 ± 0.6, P < 0.001), responding to emotions (3.5 ± 0.9 vs 3.9 ± 0.6, P = 0.004), making care recommendations (3.5 ± 1.0 vs 3.9 ± 0.7, P < 0.001), and quickly conducting a code status discussion (3.6 ± 1.0 vs 4.0 ± 0.7, P < 0.001). Residents also expressed an increased desire for supervision and feedback to further develop these skills.

Conclusions: This goals of care communication curriculum improves resident confidence and requires minimal resources. It may be ideal for programs that have limited access to simulated patients and/or faculty trained in communication skill simulation, but desire enhanced education on this important aspect of patient–doctor communication and high-quality patient care. Future studies measuring clinical outcomes and changes in learner behavior as a result of this intervention are needed. Ongoing observation and feedback on these skills will be important to solidify learning and sustain impact.
Posted in: End-of-life and Palliative Care of the Elderly1

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