Background: Delivering bad news is a difficult task that is important to address in medical education.
Purpose: This study evaluated the impact of an experiential educational intervention using multiple standardized patient scenarios on medical students' comfort with delivering difficult news.
Methods: In small groups, 3rd-year medical students practiced communicating bad news within the context of five different patient scenarios. During 1999 and 2000, surveys were administered to 341 students before and 4 weeks and 1 year after the program. Students rated comfort level in discussing bad news, terminal illness, hospice, and dying with patients.
Results: A significant one standard deviation change was observed in students' self-reported comfort in communicating bad news after the educational program. The intervention was highly rated, especially the encounters with standardized patients and observation of others.
Conclusions: Experiential education using multiple standardized patient scenarios is a successful model for increasing student comfort in responding to difficult clinical communication tasks.