Employee to employer communication skills: balancing cancer treatment and employment


Correspondence to: Department of Social and Behavioral Health, Virginia Commonwealth University, School of Medicine, MCV Campus, One Capitol Square, 9th Floor, 830 East Main St, PO Box 980149, Richmond VA, 23298. E-mail: rbrown39@vcu.edu



Cancer patients face difficulties in accessing legally mandated benefits and accommodations when they return to the workplace. Poor employer–employee communication inflates these difficulties. Although proven methods to facilitate physician–patient communication exist, these have not been applied to the workplace. Thus, we aimed to assess the feasibility and utility of applying these methods to educate patients about their workplace rights and provide them with communication skills training to aid their conversations with their employers.


A DVD was produced to educate patients and facilitate workplace communication. Participants consisted of 28 solid tumor cancer patients (14 women and 14 men) who completed primary cancer treatment in the past 12 months and were employed at the time of diagnosis. Participants watched a communication skills training DVD and completed a telephone interview. The interview elicited information about workplace experiences and evaluation of the DVD training program.


The physician–patient communication skills training model utilized was successfully translated to the employer–employee setting. All but one participant found the DVD useful and easy to understand and indicated a high degree of confidence in using the communication skills to help them ask for workplace accommodations. All participants agreed that it would help newly diagnosed patients in discussions with their employers.


Our data provides promising preliminary evidence that patient communication skills training can be applied to the workplace setting and is a welcomed aid to newly diagnosed cancer patients in their discussions with employers regarding the impact of treatment on their work performance and needs for accommodations. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.