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Open Access Article

Improving Oncology Nurses' Communication Skills for Difficult Conversations

Linda Baer
Elizabeth Weinstein
CJON 2013, 17(3), E45-E51 DOI: 10.1188/13.CJON.E45-E51

When oncology nurses have strong communication skills, they play a pivotal role in influencing patient satisfaction, adherence to plans of care, and overall clinical outcomes. However, research studies indicate that nurses tend to keep communication with patients and families at a superficial, nontherapeutic level. Processes for teaching goals-of-care communication skills and for implementing skills into clinical practice are not clearly defined. Nurses at a large comprehensive cancer center recognized the need for help with this skill set and sought out communication experts to assist in providing the needed education. An educational project was developed to improve therapeutic communication skills in oncology nurses during goals-of-care discussions and giving bad news. The program was tailored to nurses and social workers providing care to patients in a busy, urban, academic, outpatient oncology setting. Program topics included exploring the patient's world, eliciting hopes and concerns, and dealing with conflict about goals. Sharing and discussing specific difficult questions and scenarios were encouraged throughout the program. The program was well attended and well received by oncology nurses and social workers. Participants expressed interest in the continuation of communication programs to further enhance skills.


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