7 Oct 2010

Bad News

Most of my close friends know that I am responsible for a tutorial called “When the doctor becomes the patient”. When I was first assigned this topic three years ago, I was horrified. My only experience as an in-patient was when I was five years old, and I mistakenly swallowed a crayon. How can this silly story last for an hour?

After receiving the instructions from the Faculty, I realized I was much mistaken. My job was to play a video clip and lead some discussions. The video was about a consultant surgeon who stressed the importance of surgical skills and despised talks of caring attitude. One day, he attended an ENT checkup for sore throat, and was bluntly told, “Doctor, you have a growth.” He began to view doctor-patient relationship from the other side and was startled by his doctor’s cold attitude and paternal approach. At one point, his doctor offered radiotherapy for the throat cancer and did not allow discussion of alternative treatments. When he asked whether he could have surgery instead, the doctor simply replied, “You will lose your voice.”

Since I took up this tutorial, I have noticed that local students were very shy and felt uneasy about discussing care and emotions. Thus, I took the opportunity to teach both ethics and communication skills. The skill of breaking bad news was discussed and practiced. Instead of spending an hour discussing what one should do, I asked students to convey the same messages themselves in role plays. Through the exercise, they were able to learn the same things.

This year, a student approached me after the tutorial and asked, “It takes much time to explain things to patients. Will we really have time in the future?”


  1. I guess some innovative administrators will solve this problem by adding a "Breaking bad news" function on the i-Hospital.

  2. Haha, maybe another 50 pages guidelines for "breaking bad news" will come up soon.