Breaking Bad News: Is the Medical Student Ready?

ABSTRACT Over the last two decades, curriculum changes and developments have taken place at medical schools, aimed at humanizing medical training. It is believed that this will enable these professionals to meet the current demands of the changing health care system. Within context of this new approach, one can highlight the importance of methods of breaking bad news being included in undergraduate medical training. This will aid students to act empathetically and efficiently in not only this specific situation, but all situations. Emotionally-loaded content reinforces the need for student medics to be adequately prepared to know how to deal with both the reactions of patients and their own feelings. This article consists of a cross-sectional study, in which we evaluated the ability of delivering bad news and the communication skills of medical students. The students were from a preclinical science training course and analyzed by means of a checklist during an OSCE (Objective Structured Clinical Examination). A sample consisting of 119 second-year students from the University of Fortaleza medical school was evaluated, of which 67% reported an overall performance of greater than 90%. The greatest difficulty observed when breaking bad news was their making of a “brief announcement” at the beginning of the consultation (35.3%). However, the students were efficient at not “sugarcoating” the bad news, with none of the students failing in this aspect of the evaluation. Furthermore, the ability of identifying the influence of the symptoms in the patient’s life using the Kübler-Ross model of grief and loss and Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group (ECOG) scale was assessed, with 84.1% of the students identifying it correctly. Therefore, in order to improve this essential skill in medical practice, one can underline the importance of drawing on personal experiences in teaching-learning, as patient actors, of training among peers, of an approach that includes standardized procedures and reflections on the importance of these strategies in teaching how to break bad news.