Get access

Communication skills and cultural awareness courses for healthcare professionals who care for patients with sickle cell disease


  • Veronica J. Thomas BSc PhD CPsychol,

  • Tom Cohn BSc

Veronica Thomas,
Haematology Department,
Guy's & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust,


Aims.  This paper reports a project evaluating the efficacy and impact of a pilot communication skills and cultural awareness course for healthcare professionals who care for patients with sickle cell disease.

Background.  Poor communication between patients with sickle cell disease and healthcare professionals causes suspicion and mistrust. Many patients feel that they are negatively labelled by the healthcare system and are sceptical of opening themselves to an unsympathetic system. They may therefore appear hostile and aggressive when interacting with healthcare professionals, which in turn leads to distortions and misunderstandings between both groups. The use of good communication skills by healthcare professionals is therefore vital for good healthcare practice.

Methods.  Forty-seven healthcare professionals took part in a series of three pilot courses each lasting 3 days. Healthcare professionals were taught a repertoire of communication skills and cultural awareness strategies to use in challenging situations that arise in their care of sickle cell patients. Expert facilitators used a variety of teaching techniques, such as professionally-made videos, role-play, and group exercises. Participants’ confidence in dealing with challenging situations was assessed at baseline, immediately after the intervention, and at 3- and 6-month postintervention.

Findings.  A repeated measures anova revealed a statistically significant increase in confidence from pre- to postcourse scores. Confidence scores further increased from immediately postcourse and 3 months postcourse follow-up. These were then maintained at 6 months postcourse.

Conclusion.  The overall findings of this local study demonstrated that this type of communication skills and cultural awareness training had a positive and enduring impact on professionals’ perceived ability and confidence in communicating with patients with sickle cell disease. Participants attributed this to the learner-centred approach of the course that provided them with the opportunity to transfer and apply the taught skills in their daily practice. This type of training might be helpful in reducing mistrust and increasing empathetic responses in healthcare professional.

Get access to the full text of this article