Training pays off: OHSU SoM grads ready for hard conversations

A few years into a Kaiser Northwest Permanente effort to improve their hospitalists’ skills in communicating with patients with life-limiting illness, they began noticing something: clinicians who trained at OHSU get it:

  • They show increased openness to engage in difficult conversations.
  • They take time to understand a patient’s perspective, provide concise summaries and demonstrate empathy.
  • They use a variety of techniques to meet the patient’s readiness.

Anna Scott, MSN, MHA, RN, manager of Life Care Planning for Kaiser Hospitals and Health Plan Northwest, and Northwest Permanente organizational consultant Paula Liddell, MSN, RN, shared these insights in a letter to Susan Tolle, M.D., professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, and director of the OHSU Center for Ethics in Health Care.

Over the past two years, they said they observed “a significant difference in the communication skill set of new providers joining our team that trained at OHSU… As the downstream recipient of your efforts and commitment to train the next generation of physicians, we want to say thank you. Your work is paying dividends to us organizationally and more importantly to the community of patients and families that we both serve.”

Faculty help expand training to residency programs, clinical enterprise
Now the OHSU School of Medicine is expanding its training in compassionate communication skills to include not only fourth-year M.D. students but also residents, starting by training faculty members to assist with the expansion.

“The ability to effectively and compassionately share information with patients and families about what they are facing while helping them process emotions around the often-scary news helps patients take more control and make decisions aligned with their values and desires for themselves and their families,” said Katie Iossi, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine.

Dr. Iossi is among a number of SoM faculty becoming Vital Talk Instructors to integrate compassionate communication into the residency programs and clinical practice. SoM faculty and external colleagues who have completed the training include:

Back row, from left:

  • Katie Stowers, D.O., assistant professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, and Ronald W. Naito Director of Serious Illness Education, OHSU Center for Ethics in Health Care
  • David Zonies, M.D., associate professor of surgery, OHSU School of Medicine
  • Bob Macauley, M.D., professor of pediatrics, OHSU School of Medicine, and senior scholar, Center for Ethics in Health Care
  • John Muench, M.D., M.P.H., professor of family medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, and senior scholar, Center for Ethics in Health Care
  • Will Kennedy, M.D., with House Call Providers

Front row, from left:

  • Phyllis Beemsterboer, Ed.D., M.S., professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, and associate director, Center for Ethics in Health Care
  • Melissa Weddle, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of pediatrics, OHSU School of Medicine, and senior scholar, Center for Ethics in Health Care
  • Craig Tanner M.D., director of palliative care, Legacy Health System (with tie)
  • Tony Back, M.D., internal medicine, oncology and palliative care, University of Washington
  • Katie Iossi, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine

Jessica Weiss, M.D., associate professor of medicine, OHSU School of Medicine, is not pictured but has also been trained and is helping lead the work.

OHSU leaders are pleased to see the ripple effect that the instruction is having in the community.

“We want to recognize Kaiser Northwest Permanente for their implementation of compassionate communication in their clinical practice and thank them for this acknowledgment of the work our educators are doing at OHSU,” said George Mejicano, M.D., senior associate dean for education, OHSU School of Medicine. “We are excited to expand this instruction to our residency programs and hope to see our graduates continue to improve care for seriously ill patients and their families in their communities.”

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