Breaking bad news

One of the most difficult things a doctor has to face is having to break bad news to someone. It’s one of those things that you can’t avoid because you know that at some point in your life that you are going to have to do it. You can read up on it, practice with your peers, watch videos but I doubt it will be anything like what happens in reality.

One of the great things about my medical school is the amount of work they put into ensuring that our communication skills are up to scratch. In second year, we had to learn about giving information to patients and that was something we had to build on in third year. However, in fourth year, to round off everything we have learnt; we had to attend a breaking bad news session.

In these sessions, we normally have an actor who plays the role of the patient. It can be a bit nerve wracking to do something like this in front of your peers; but after spending four years of being challenged and put out your comfort zone, sessions like these are a breeze.

Fortunately, the scenario that i had wasn’t that bad. I had to break the news to a patient that he had tested positive for chlamydia and that he had to tell his wife (who he had cheated on!). Others had worse cases so I was pretty lucky in this case! It did get me thinking though…

It can’t be easy having to tell a patient bad news. You have the burden of changing that person’s life for the worse and the responsibility of that is bound to take its toll on the doctor. Obviously I have not had the experience of that just yet but the thought of inevitably having to do that does me make me feel at unease.

I guess the important thing to remember is that for every bad news you give, you are also saving another’s life. Now that’s something that I will have to keep holding onto in order to remain sane throughout my career.


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