Implementation of the REFLECT Communication Curriculum for Clinical Oncology Graduate Medical Education

Tamara Z. Vern-Gross, Brady S. Laughlin, Katherine Kough, Brenda Ernst, Natalie Langley, William G. Rule, Samir H. Patel, Jonathan B. Ashman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Communication and interpersonal skills are essential medical components of oncology patient care. Patients and families rely on physicians for treatment, expertise, guidance, hope, meaning, and compassion throughout a life-threatening illness. A provider's inability to empathize with patients is linked to physician-related fatigue and burnout. Because oncology training programs focus on teaching evidence-based medicine and clinical acumen, little time may be dedicated to professional development and acquisition of interactive skills. Traditional communication courses typically include two components: formal, knowledge-based learning skills, which are gained from didactic lectures, and role-playing, which usually occurs in small groups. We report the implementation of a novel longitudinal communication curriculum for trainees in Oncology. Materials and Methods: At a single-center institution, an innovative communication curriculum titled ''REFLECT'' (Respect, Empathy, Facilitate Effective Communication, Listen, Elicit Information, Compassion, and Teach Others) was implemented for radiation oncology residents and medical oncology fellows to improve and refine physician/patient interactions. All oncology specialty residents and fellows were eligible to participate in this communication curriculum. The curriculum emphasized a reflective process to guide trainees through challenging scenarios. Results: Since October 2018, this comprehensive course consisted of quarterly (four hour) workshops comprising assigned reading, knowledge assessments, didactic lectures, expert guest lecturers, standardized patient simulations, role-playing, patient/expert panels, coaching, reflective writing, and debriefing/feedback sessions. The curriculum provided longitudinal communication training integrated with the learners' daily physician/patient encounters rather than occasional isolated experiences. Fifteen workshops have been completed. Each focused on navigating challenging situations with patients, loved ones, or colleagues. Conclusions: Future directions of the curriculum will entail improving the communication skills of oncology trainees and gathering communication improvement data to assess the program's success formally.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)231-235
Number of pages5
JournalJournal of Palliative Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2024


  • communication curriculum
  • empathy
  • graduate medical education
  • medical oncology
  • radiation oncology
  • reflection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Nursing
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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