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Teaching Senior Nurses How to Teach Communication Skills in Oncology

Fallowfield, Lesley DPhil, BSc, SRN; Saul, Jacky MPhil, BSc; Gilligan, Bruce RGN, Onc cert


Many nurses acknowledge that their nursing practice is hampered by inadequate teaching about communication skills during their nursing education. Ineffective communication has negative effects on patient care and causes stress when nurses interact with each other, with medical colleagues, with patients and their relatives. Many senior nurses teach junior staff about communication and feel uncertain about their competence to do so despite recognition of its importance.

This article reports data from a training initiative endorsed by the Royal College of Nursing in the United Kingdom (UK) aimed at helping senior nurses to identify their personal strengths and weaknesses when communicating, learn new teaching methods and encourage new teaching initiatives. A residential 2- day course, based on learner-centered methods was employed. One hundred and twenty nine nurses from UK cancer centers worked on personal communication problems via group discussions, video demonstrations, small group teaching exercises and role-plays with professional actors. Post-course, participants reported significantly greater confidence in handling 14 common communication problem areas in cancer (p< .0001) and in 8 different areas of teaching. Participants were very enthusiastic about the course overall and especially valued the training approach and teaching materials provided. Three months post-course 91% reported changing their own teaching practice and 85% had initiated new communication skills teaching.

From the CRC Psychosocial Oncology Group, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex (Dr Fallowfield and Ms Saul) and Bristol Myers Squibb, Hounslow, Middlesex, UK (Mr Gilligan).

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Professor Lesley Fallowfield, CRC Psychosocial Oncology Group, School of Biological Sciences, University of Sussex, Falmer, Brighton, BN1 9QG, United Kingdom (e-mail:

© 2001 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.