Learning To Break Bad News

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Breaking bad news is a challenging and impactful responsibility. Many health care professionals feel unprepared to effectively communicate with their patients when having difficult conversations, such as delivering news of a chronic or life-threatening diagnosis.

Addressing the need for students to learn about and develop strategies and self-efficacy in communicating bad news to patients and family members, Doctor of Nursing Practice at ASU Edson College, Erin Tharalson, and Professor Janet O’Brien collaborated with hospice professionals to develop a simulation-based workshop “Breaking Bad News,” to facilitate nurse practitioner students’ skill development in this area. ASU’s Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation took part in the “Breaking Bad News” workshop recently. Now, this work has garnered further funding through the Mary Killeen Program for Education Excellence Award. This award will allow future curriculum integration and development of this work for nurse practitioner students at the college now and in the future.

How do you teach handling difficult conversations?

“Our healthcare providers are really giving bad news quite frequently every month, so we want to make sure that at the Edson’s College of Nursing and Health that we are training our nurse practitioners to give bad news. You don’t just learn this skill, you have to so some hands on practice with it,” said Tharalson.

“We offered a half-day workshop in the Fall to our nurse practitioner students, where they had hands-on experience on learning how to break bad news and have difficult conversations with patients,” said Tharalson.

You have to know what to say to the patient and family

“Yes, so in the workshop we had tools that we utilized, that are evidence based, that provide a step-by-step approach for nurse practitioners to use to tell bad news. In the workshop we also offered a simulation experience, so that’s where we pay actors to come in and be patients and the nurse practitioner students, in real time, go and break bad news to those patients. It’s a great experience for them to get the words out and practice the skill before they get out in the real world,” said Tharalson.

Erin Tharalson, Doctor of Nursing Practice at ASU Edson College

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