Use of Simulation-Based Mastery Learning Curriculum to Improve Difficult Conversation Skills Among Anesthesiologists: A Pilot Study

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J Educ Perioper Med


BACKGROUND: Breaking bad news (BBN) is an important clinical task for physicians. Unfortunately, there is no standard method to teach and assess these skills of anesthesiologists. Although anesthesiology has become a relatively safe medical specialty, complications still occur that require disclosure to patients and their families. Disclosure of bad news can be a significant source of stress for clinicians, especially for those who have low confidence in their BBN skills. Anesthesiologists' skills in BBN can be improved with simulation-based mastery learning (SBML), an intense form of competency-based learning.

METHODS: An SBML curriculum was developed using the SPIKES (Situation, Perception, Invitation, Knowledge, Emotion, Summarize) framework for BBN and the NURSE (Naming, Understanding, Respecting, Supporting, Exploring) statements for expressing empathy. A pretest-posttest study was conducted from March 2020 to June 2022 to evaluate anesthesiologists' performance in BBN. Participants completed a 2-hour curriculum consisting of a pretest, didactic session, deliberate practice with feedback, and a posttest. Anesthesiologists were assessed using a 16-item skills checklist.

RESULTS: Six anesthesiology attendings and 14 anesthesiology fellows were enrolled in the study. Three of 20 participants met the minimum passing score (MPS) at the time of their pretest. All study participants met the MPS on their first posttest (P < .001). The median participant confidence in BBN significantly increased (3 to 4, P < .001). Overall course satisfaction in the curriculum was high, with a median score of 5.

CONCLUSIONS: Our study demonstrates that a BBN SBML curriculum for anesthesiologists significantly improved communication skills and confidence in a simulated environment. Because only 3 participants met the MPS before training, our results suggest that anesthesiologists could benefit from further education to gain effective communication skills and that SBML training may be effective to achieve this result.

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