Training to Say the Words No Patient Wants to Hear


“Hi, Joanne, how’re you feeling today?” her doctor asks.

When he walked into the room, he brought with him an uneasy air. She had been going through chemotherapy for a few years now, getting better and then feeling poorly again.

“I want to talk to you about your treatments. At this point, I’m not sure chemotherapy is the best option for your health. My team and I want to focus on keeping you as comfortable as possible and treat your symptoms the best we can,” the doctor says, slowly and carefully. Her heart falls into her stomach.

“Are you saying you’re giving up?” she asks.

This conversation isn’t real; it is a fictional scene inspired by the one-act play “Breaking Bad News,” which helps University of Michigan Medical School students understand the patient’s perspective. But interactions like these are very real — they happen every day — and are some of the most daunting tasks these future doctors will face in the medical field.

The play is just part of a larger training effort that equips students to conduct these difficult conversations as practicing physicians.

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