We hypothesize that a formal simulation curriculum prepares neonatology fellows for difficult conversations better than traditional didactics.Methods:
Single-center neonatology fellowship graduates from 1999 to 2013 were sent a retrospective web-based survey. Some had been exposed to a Difficult Conversations curriculum (simulation group), others had not (no simulation group). The simulation group participated in one workshop annually, consisting of lecture, simulation, and debriefing. Scenarios were customized to year of training. Epoch comparisons were made between the simulation and no simulation groups.Results:
Self-rated baseline effectiveness at discussing difficult topics was not different. The simulation group reported more supervised family meetings and feedback after fellow-led meetings. Simulations were rated very positively. The simulation group reported increased comfort levels. Strategic pause and body positioning were specific communication skills more frequently acquired in the simulation group. In both groups, the highest ranked contributors to learning were mentor observation and clinical practice. In the simulation group, simulation and debriefing outranked didactics or other experiences.Conclusions:
Simulation-based workshops improve communication skills in high stakes conversations. However, they do not substitute for mentor observation and experience. Establishing a structured simulation-based difficult conversations curriculum refines vital communication skills necessary for the high stakes conversations neonatologists direct in clinical practice.