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Keywords:

  • medical education;
  • communication skills;
  • geriatrics;
  • palliative care

Expert communication is essential to high-quality care for older patients with serious illness. Although the importance of communication skills is widely recognized, formal curricula for teaching communication skills to geriatric and palliative medicine fellows is often inadequate or unavailable. The current study drew upon the educational principles and format of an evidence-based, interactive teaching method to develop an intensive communication skills training course designed specifically to address the common communication challenges that geriatric and palliative medicine fellows face. The 2-day retreat, held away from the hospital environment, included large-group overview presentations, small-group communication skills practice, and development of future skills practice commitment. Faculty received in-depth training in small-group facilitation techniques before the course. Geriatric and palliative medicine fellows were recruited to participate in the course and 100% (n = 18) enrolled. Overall satisfaction with the course was very high (mean 4.8 on a 5-point scale). After the course, fellows reported an increase in self-assessed preparedness for specific communication challenges (mean increase 1.4 on 5-point scale, P < .001). Two months after the course, fellows reported a high level of sustained skills practice (mean 4.3 on 5-point scale). In sum, the intensive communication skills program, customized for the specific needs of geriatric and palliative medicine fellows, improved fellows’ self-assessed preparedness for challenging communication tasks and provided a model for ongoing deliberate practice of communication skills.