Teaching NICU Fellows How to Relay Difficult News Using a Simulation-Based Curriculum: Does Comfort Lead to Competence?

Nada Ghoneim, Vedanta S Dariya, Danielle Guffey, Charles G. Minard, Ernest Frugé, Leslie L. Harris, Karen E. Johnson, Jennifer Arnold

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


Problem: Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) clinicians must frequently relay difficult news to patient families, and the need for formal training for NICU trainees to develop this skill has been established. Although previous studies have shown improved trainee self-efficacy and comfort in handling difficult conversations after formal communication training, it remains unclear whether these interventions lead to improved objectively assessed short-term and long-term performance. Intervention: A simulation-based intervention emphasizing the SPIKES protocol for delivery of bad news was implemented for 15 fellows in the 3-year Baylor College of Medicine Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine fellowship program in the 2013–2014 academic year. Simulations involved video-recorded encounters between each fellow and a standardized parent (SP) involving communication of difficult news. Each fellow was evaluated before (preintervention), immediately after (postintervention), and 3–4 months after the intervention (follow-up) with an (a) evaluation of video-recorded sessions by two expert raters blinded to the timing of the encounter (blinded rater evaluation [BRE]), (b) Self-Assessment Questionnaire, (c) Content Test evaluating knowledge of taught concepts, and (d) SP evaluation (SPE). Context: The 1st- and 2nd/3rd-year fellows participated in the study at separate times in the academic year to accommodate their schedules. First-year fellows had had more prior communication training and less NICU clinical experience than the 2nd/3rd-year fellows at the time of their intervention. Outcome: Although all fellows displayed improved Self-Assessment and Content Test scores at postintervention with retention at the follow-up assessment, the BREs showed no statistically significant improvement in postintervention scores and showed a decline in follow-up scores. First-year fellows had higher BRE postintervention scores than the senior fellows. SPEs showed no difference in scores at all 3 assessment stages. Lessons Learned: As previously described in the literature, trainee self-efficacy and knowledge may improve in the short term and long term with a simulation-based curriculum in communication of difficult news. However, these results may be inconsistent with those of objective evaluations by expert raters and standardized parents. The impact of the curriculum may be heightened if it reinforces previously learned skills, but the effect may wane over time if not reinforced frequently with additional formal training or in the clinical setting. The results of this study highlight the importance of objective assessments in evaluating the utility of a simulation-based communication curriculum and the need for longitudinal curricula to promote retention of the concepts and skills being taught.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)207-221
Number of pages15
JournalTeaching and Learning in Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 15 2019


  • NICU
  • bad news
  • communication training
  • simulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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