A survey study of oncology nurses evaluating the practices at their respective institutions regarding patient-centered communication showed unclear practices related to discussions of prognosis with patients, and a need for training to effectively communicate with patients on issues related to survivorship. This study was published in the Clinical Journal of Oncology Nursing.

The increasing complexity of oncology care underlies the growing need for effective oncology nurse-led patient communication on a wide range of topics. These topics include patient-centered discussions related to prognostic information at diagnosis and disease recurrence, bereavement, and end-of-life issues, as well as survivorship care planning.  In addition, barriers to effective patient communication, such as conflicts between family members or multidisciplinary team members, need to be identified and addressed.

“Capturing a national perspective of communication training needs for oncology nurses will inform the development of communication curricula, institutional training, and policy priorities, which are imperative to ensuring quality cancer care,” the authors wrote.

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Oncology nurses completed the survey prior to attending a COMFORT Communications training course, a National Cancer Institute (NCI)–supported program focused on educating oncology nurses about communicating with patients on issues related to palliative care.

The 3-part survey queried oncology nurse participants about:

  • Communication practice standards at their institutions,
  • The content of communication training courses currently available at their institutions, and
  • Their perceptions of patient communication at their institutions.

Data on personal and institutional demographics were also collected.

The survey was completed by 355 nurses from a variety of cancer care settings in 42 states and Washington, DC. Across institutions, oncology nurses reported that patient communication was least effective during “bereavement, when facing end-of-life, and through survivorship.” They also reported high levels of difficulty in communicating with patients when conflicts existed between patients and families or between members of the oncology care team. Regarding the delivery of prognostic information or “bad news,” the majority of nurses reported being present for these discussions, but not leading them.

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In conclusion, the authors wrote that “the current study demonstrates communication training needs across the cancer continuum and highlights needed changes to institutional practices and their efforts to achieve and deliver patient-centered communication.”


Wittenberg E, Goldsmith J, Buller H, Ragan SL, Ferrell B. Communication training: needs among oncology nurses across the cancer continuum.

Clin J Oncol Nurs. 2019;23(1):82-91.