Communication education has become integral to pre- and post-qualification clinical curricula, but it is not informed by research into how practitioners think that good communication arises.
This study was conducted to explore how surgeons conceptualise their communication with patients with breast cancer in order to inform the design and delivery of communication curricula.
We carried out 19 interviews with eight breast surgeons. Each interview centred on a specific consultation with a different patient. We analysed the transcripts of the surgeons’ interviews qualitatively using a constant comparative approach.
All of the surgeons described communication as central to their role. Communication could be learned to some extent, not from formal training, but by selectively incorporating practices they observed in other practitioners and by being mindful in consultations. Surgeons explained that their own values and character shaped how they communicated and what they wanted to achieve, and constrained what could be learned.
These surgeons’ understanding of communication is consistent with recent suggestions that communication education: (i) should place practitioners’ goals at its centre, and (ii) might be enhanced by approaches that support ‘mindful’ practice. By contrast, surgeons’ understanding diverged markedly from the current emphasis on ‘communication skills’. Research that explores practitioners’ perspectives might help educators to design communication curricula that engage practitioners by seeking to enhance their own ways of learning about communication.
Picture by ReSurge International