Serious Illness Communication Training Among Radiation Oncology Residents

Michael Christensen, Kiran A. Kumar, Winnie S. Wang, Kavita V. Dharmarajan, Zieanna Chang, Carla Khalaf McStay, Alexis Barina, Caitlin Siropaides

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: Education and specific training on serious illness communication skills for radiation oncology residents is lacking. The Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education requires radiation oncology residents to demonstrate interpersonal and communication skills; however, implementing specific training to address this poses an ongoing challenge. This study assesses the feasibility and effectiveness of a radiation oncology specific serious illness communication curriculum at a single radiation oncology residency program. Methods and Materials: The primary objectives were to assess observable communication skills among radiation oncology residents and their perceived level of preparedness and comfort with patient encounters surrounding serious illness. Each resident participated in a baseline simulated patient encounter. Two virtual half-day experience-based learning sessions led by faculty experts trained in teaching serious illness communication were held. The training consisted of brief didactic teaching, with the emphasis on small group guided practice with simulated patients in scenarios specific to radiation oncology. Each resident participated in a postcourse simulated patient encounter. Three blinded faculty trained in serious illness communication completed objective assessments of observable communication skills to compare pre- and postcourse performance. Results: A t test based on validated assessments reviewed by blinded faculty demonstrated significant improvement in overall observable communication skills among radiation oncology residents in the postcourse encounter compared with the precourse encounter (P = .0067). Overall, 8 of 9 (89%) residents felt more comfortable and prepared with radiation oncology-specific serious illness communication after the course compared with prior. The simulated patients rated the overall average resident performance higher on the postcourse assessment (Likert 4.89/5) compared with the precourse assessment (Likert 4.09/5), which trended toward a significant improvement (P = .0515). Conclusions: Radiation oncology residents had a significant improvement in observable communication skills after participating in an experience-based training curriculum. This course can serve as an adaptable model that may be implemented by other radiation oncology residency programs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e220-e229
JournalPractical Radiation Oncology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 May 2023


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